Guatemala Part I: Getting There

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Reading this week:

  • Range by David Epstein

Buckle up people – I’m going to milk this Guatemala trip for all it’s worth.

So over Christmas break I went to Guatemala. I mostly went because I was jealous of other people doing cool stuff. I’m in the Global Affairs program and because the affairs we care about are global, you get people who just casually go to Jordan or Vietnam or Portugal and stuff. So I wanted to go somewhere, and I figured I should practice my Spanish, and I have already technically been to Mexico, and Guatemala is the next closest place. I also have not ever traveled to Central/South America, except for a spring break in Cancun and a trip to Manaus, and I figured I should get some exposure to the region. I was very interested in how a place like Guatemala contrasted to Zambia or the other African countries I had been to. And then finally, ancient stone cities are like my jam, dawg, and Guatemala fortunately has quite a number of Mayan ruins.

So off I went to Guatemala. My mom dropped me off at the airport at 0400 and at 0600 I was on a flight to Texas and from there Guatemala City. I was hoping to find a Spanish phrasebook in one of the airport bookstores but no luck. The flight was fine. We landed a tad after noon and I got off the plane. As I walked to customs I kept asking why I had done this to myself. I was nervous about being in Guatemala and totally alone and not quite sure what I was doing. After customs, I changed money and bought a sim card at the convenient if overpriced stands in the airport, and then exited the airport and was like hrm. My original plan had been to take the overnight bus to Flores, but I had wussed out and decided to fly instead. So I needed to find the departure gate, and that was tougher than it sounded. I had found the departure entrance, but it looked like an exit, and so there I was wandering around with a bright orange shirt and a salmon colored backpack looking confused. Luckily, they had a cafe across the street so I ducked in there because I needed some lunch anyways. I got to sit down finally and eat some food and I observed the departures gate and concluded it really was departures. I sat around reading for a while and then went in at the appropriate time and then hung out in the departure gate. We eventually boarded the very tiny plane and took off just a few minutes before the sun went down. It was a fairly pretty ride, though clouds covered most of the way so I couldn’t get a really good look at the landscape. But I met some nice Canadian ladies.

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The most jarring thing about landing in Santa Elena was that there was a huge McDonald’s sign visible from the runway. And right before the causeway to Flores there is a Burger King. I came all the way from the United States only to find this. In Zambia you don’t run into this stuff so it feels more exotic. Guatemala seems much more developed. But I got off the plane and found a taxi, and the driver found some other people to split it with me. They were either French or Quebecois. I almost forgot to pay the taxi driver but he got me to “Hotel La Mesa de los Mayas,” which I picked out of a guidebook. I asked if they had a cheaper room than the Q150 one he offered, so the proprietor gave it to me for Q125. I took a shower and then head out to finally see some of Guatemala.

The island of Flores was jarring when we first crossed the causeway because I could see a lot of what seemed like tourists but now I think they might be Guatemalan. Still maybe tourists. So I didn’t really know if I was comfortable with the whole place. But the island isn’t large and I went for a stroll around the whole thing, stopping for dinner. Literally all around the island were couples enjoying the night air and each other’s company and I thought it was very very cute. My Spanish was really terrible. However, the place I picked for dinner had a nice view across the lake and it was good food and everything was great. As I was sitting there, I was very happy to be in the tropics but it felt like it would be a while before I really understood the vibe of the place. After dinner and back at the hotel, I pondered before I fell asleep what the Mayans that originally inhabited Flores would think about it these days. Would they be into commerce and trade? Would they like the food?

The Draft

Reading this week:

  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything by Rosa Brooks

We’re no longer in the “stretch” portion of content, technically, because I am back from my trip, but I guess the internet was worried about World War III after the strike against Soleimani. This, as we are all aware, apparently lead large swaths of the American Youth to be afraid they were about to be drafted (NYT). In a later article about a fraud centered around the draft, the New York Times also characterized text messages saying people were going to be drafted as “scary” (NYT).

I have a great many complex feelings about this. I’m not sure I can characterize them fully here, but I’ll give it a go. First off, the draft in its most recent iterations is terrible. It is classist, and in America that therefore means it is racist. Theoretically any man of the right age can be called on to join the military, but there are exceptions. There were deferments for college, or if your job was vital to the war effort. The sorts of people going to college or who have jobs vital to the war effort are going to be from a certain social class. And if you can’t get deferments for college or your job, if you have enough money and know the right people you can always find a doctor to give you a diagnosis of bone spurs. So the draft was never as egalitarian as it should have been. The military doesn’t even particularly like the draft; it is way easier to manage an all-volunteer force, because everyone there theoretically wants to be there, as opposed to a force full of people who were, uh, drafted into it.

But what rankles me is that people are afraid of it. That, like I said, the NYT characterizes the draft as “scary.” What, exactly, is so scary about serving your country?

I am going to put aside the conscientious objectors, because those people aren’t necessarily afraid to be drafted. I also understand on a lot of levels why the draft would be scary. Anything strange and foreign is scary. I understand the people that are in no position to be drafted, because they need to support their families or other reasons. But these 18 year olds? These college students? What’s their excuse?

If the fear is that you will be drafted and then go on to be killed or seriously injured, I understand that as a specific fear, but what is the alternative? If you don’t go, then someone else will have to. Increasingly, the military is part of a caste system – it is the children of military that go on to serve in the military (NYT again, these warnings are for the paywall). That was the case for me. I’m 3rd gen military, on both sides (my grandparents were both in WWII, so maybe that’s not so special). My parents never pushed me into the military but at age 18 or so I suddenly woke up and pure instinct pushed me to go to the Naval Academy.

The big advantage of the draft, that although it is in-egalitarian, is it did do something to spread out who participated in the military. It also spread out the burden. When the draft was around, wars meant that your kid might be called up. Without the draft, wars can be fought by other people, those anonymous “boots” that always wind up “on the ground.”

Personally I think joining the military is about the best thing you can possible do at age 18, and, failing that, at about age 22 right out of college. Serve four or five years, and then go on to do whatever you’re were originally going to do. It gives you discipline, it gives you life skills, and at the very least it gives you a paycheck while you get a little bit older and wiser. People are idiots at 18, so join the military and when you get out at 22 or 23 you won’t be quite as dumb and can go to college as a not-dumb-kid.

Here’s what I am trying to get at. I’m not sure if I support a draft or not; I see a lot of pros and cons either way. If we just re-up the last draft law, probably not, because as I said before it is racist. And I don’t think some sort of universal service would work for the United States the way it does for Singapore or Israel, because we’re just too big. But at my grumpy old age of 31, it upsets me that young people should be so afraid of the draft. Sign up. Serve. See the system from the inside. Learn who the people are that fight the nation’s wars.

Myakka River State Park

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Reading this week:

  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

We are, as noted, in the “stretch” portion of content. That means a whole post on Myakka River State Park! It is a pretty nice little state park. It was created when the Civilian Conservation Corps did their usual thing and found a river and dammed it up. They cleared, we were told, about 1000 acres of forest to do this. They also didn’t quite dam it up, they in fact built a weir. Over the years I guess silt has kinda dammed up the place anyways, because the weir is no longer in use except by a bevy of alligators that like to hang out next to it. Why was the CCC so enthusiastic about damming up rivers? I can barely remember the last time I saw a lake that wasn’t made by the CCC. Someone in the CCC must have been related to a beaver.

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One of the more exciting things you can do on the lake is take a boat tour. We’ve been going to this place for years, but haven’t been in a while. The last time I was here they had these sweet air boats that claimed to be the world’s largest, but now they have just regular boat-boats. I guess they’re slightly modified; on the back are what looks like outboard motors but those have in fact been retrofitted with jet-ski like jet drive things. The boat tour is pretty nice. It is nothing crazy, they just take you out to where they have seen wildlife lately (today it was across the lake) and then you uh, look at said wildlife. We saw a whole lot of alligators. They for serious have a whole bunch there. Like tons. We also saw some birds. I was slightly disappointed because Captain Ted there told us that a week before some people saw a Florida panther and so I was scanning the shoreline the whole time but with no luck.

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…yaas queen.

After the boat tour we wandered around a bit more. I got a pretty good shot of a Blue Heron (see below) and at some point we also had lunch. They offer various alligator dishes (I had a chicken ceaser wrap) but come to think of it they never told us where the alligator meat came from.

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The final thing we did at the park was walk a bit of a ways down a nature trail. There was tons of nature, and here again I was looking for a panther and was again disappointed, though considering now I was on foot instead of on a boat perhaps I should not have been. I did, however, see yet another alligator:

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Dalí Museum

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Peacock chillin’ at the Jungle Prada site.

Reading this week:

  • Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster
  • The Sex Factor: How Women Made the West Rich by Victoria Bateman
  • It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong
  • Moonraker by Ian Fleming

We have a couple of factors at play here. The most important one is that I am going on a vacation soon and need to squeeze out a few weeks of content to hold me over until I can bring all of my zero readers fantastic pictures of my travels. So now I shall write about a lovely morning I had after taking some aunt and uncle to the airport. On the way to the airport we passed the Dalí Museum, and they suggested I go. I originally heard “Dolly Museum,” and I was confused, but forged ahead nonetheless.

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But first! I went to go see the Jungle Prada Site. I went to go see it because I like to tally up places that I have been on Atlas Obscura, and also I had to kill like an hour before the museum opened. The flight was early. As you can read on the sign in the picture above, the Prada site is the landing spot of Panfilo de Narvaez, who I guess has claim to launching the first exploration by white man of the North American continent. He did this, in conquistador fashion, by immediately ransacking the village where he landed (inhabited by the Tocobaga) and then setting off in search of gold. Along the way he mutilated the chief of the Tocobaga, killed the chief’s mother and fed her to his dogs, and tried to kill the neighboring Apalachee tribe, before being killed by the Apalachee and having only four of his men escape on rafts to Mexico. Other than that it is a very lovely spot.

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I tried to be artsy in the framing of this photo.

The museum is not huge and frankly I spent more than I anticipated. Parking was $10 and admission for military (they didn’t specify if it was veteran or not so I got it) was $23 and then (this is more my own fault) I spent like $20 in the gift shop. But it was pretty great! The site is gorgeous, as you can see in the photo above. You enter the museum and then have to go up to the third floor to see the galleries. They do this because they are worried about flooding. The previous museum was on the first floor of a warehouse which, in Florida, makes it in a flood zone, so now they have truly elevated the artform.

They have two main exhibits, which are a large main gallery with Dalí’s works, and then another gallery which I think rotates. At this time it was an exhibit of French surrealists, which included some works by Dalí. I got to the museum at 10:00 and it was fairly empty for a bit though by the time I left an hour later it had filled up considerably. I guess people want to go out and see things the day after Christmas (when I went). The main gallery is arranged chronologically. I walked through backwards, so I saw his later stuff first. I liked it better than his earlier work, and I bet I am not unique in that. My favorite was “El torero alucinógeno.” It is one of his masterworks (or at least it is very big) and has all sorts of symbolism and meaning I guess. I bought a print in the gift shop. Mostly I liked the colors.

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Sorry it’s a crap picture.

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A detail from the picture.

I might have to reassess my art museum strategy. In the past I was very happy to go alone and just judge the art for myself. But now it all feels a little silly to see it without context. And I tried but I was too impatient to walk through with the tour guide today. I gotta get more art friends and then hopefully they’ll either tolerate me dragging them to art museums and asking for explanations and/or they’ll be nice enough to invite me along when they go. But the museum was very nice and it was remarkable to see the craftsmanship of these things up close. I don’t know if you know this but Dalí was like, a really good painter. If you’re in town I recommend it. But go with a crowd to have some company and then also to spread out the cost of parking. And if you absolutely hate the art it’s still Florida outside and that is pretty gorgeous in and of itself:

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