Navy Life Story: Plebe Summer Part III

In case you’re not a longtime fan, the previous entry is here.

As I sit down again to write this, after only like a three year hiatus from the last entry and a span of 13 years since the events happened, I’m trying to think of a narrative to weave. I wander around thinking about it and I’m really surprised by all the little events and things I remember. It was so long ago. I was confused much of the time, though “confused” isn’t really the word for it. I am pretty good and simply shedding my perception of those things that aren’t really necessary for day-to-day existence and only focusing on the task at again, a skill that is useful for an event like Plebe Summer. There was so much that I simply didn’t realize was going on, through the sheer force of my own ignorance. I feel like a lot of the other Plebes simply knew more about the Academy than I did, having done much more research on the institution prior to applying, or maybe just because they paid attention at more of the right times. I didn’t know that Company Senior Enlisted was even a position for a long time, and so never quite figured out why that one Chief was always hanging around us. This is something I very much should have known – I think I probably cited her name multiple times a day when reciting the chain of command but it never clicked that this Chief walking around was the name I was yelling when ordered.

I covered up a lot of my ignorance with knowing a lot of other stuff. I grew up around the Naval Academy and used to live there when I was a small kid. I could suddenly put a lot of my dad’s stories into context so I had these weird little nuggets of information that allowed me to convey a broader understanding that I didn’t have. Plus I actually read Reef Points like you were supposed to whenever you had a second of downtime to just stand there. And I didn’t just focus on the stuff you were supposed to memorize, because that was boring, but read all the history and gouge in the back. So I think that must have made me seem like I knew what I was doing. Plus then again it’s Plebe Summer – it doesn’t require a whole lot of smarts, just enough sense to do what you’re told. I wasn’t great at that, but apparently just good enough.

Then again maybe it shouldn’t be remarkable to remember so much about Plebe Summer. It is an incredible time of forgetting and learning all in once. The point of Plebe Summer is to prepare you to enter the Brigade of Midshipmen, to become a fully functioning member of the society that is the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy made me in almost every way the person I am today, and Plebe Summer was the staging point for that growth and transformation. There is a weird phenomenon that happens over Plebe Summer that you shed so much of what you were before. We were warned at the beginning by one of the Cadre that we would simply forget much of what had occurred over High School and before. Not forget, I still remember High School, but the events that occurred before Plebe Summer fell from such significance to the person I became that they are relegated deeper into the subconsciousness just out of sheer irrelevance.

The first few days of Plebe Summer were about establishing the routine and habits that would carry us through the rest of the experience. Many of these were very weird, looking back. Many of these efforts were about saving time. I dry shaved over Plebe Summer for reasons that are still somewhat unfathomable to me – but it seemed to work. And I suppose it saved time in the morning. It was weeks or months into the Academic Year (so after Plebe Summer had ended) when I realized I could use shaving cream – and shaving became worlds nicer. We also didn’t use soap over Plebe Summer? Olsen suggested, and the rest of us simply took as gospel, the advice that we just use shampoo. There were four of us in the room, and when it was time to shower we simply left the shower running the entire time. The first person would get in and turn the water on. We each had been issued shampoo as part of our standard-issue supply, and one of these bottles was stationed in the shower. We used the shampoo as shampoo and as body wash. When one person was done showering, and they showered as quick as possible, they left the water on and the next person rotated in. I guess this saved time?

I’ll end with that for this entry, since it’s late and I’m already at like 800 something words. I’ll fill the rest of my Plebe Summer posts with memories about stuff. Someday it’d be a project to go back and put them in chronological order. I wrote letters home like you’re supposed to, and I’m sure mom has those saved somewhere. They probably smell like the rest of Plebe Summer did, which was a mix of sweat and Febreze. I still can’t smell Febreze without shuddering.

Roads, Busses, & Schooling

IMG_0327

A school I visited in Zambia.

Reading this week:

  • The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester

I was supposed to be in Kenya this week for a school project, but COVID-19 put a damper on those plans. So in search of content I wanted to share some thoughts on a sort of pet notion of mine: the effect of school busses on education.

I am more or less obsessed with the notion that the key to all development is building good roads. This of course comes from my experiences in Zambia, where the village I lived in, while only 12km away from Mbala, was connected to the town only via an absolutely terrible dirt road that took a 4×4 a hour to travel down. That, combined with the education I saw in Zambia, got me thinking about busses.

I think busses are a little-sung hero of public education (not entirely; there appears to be a globe-spanning school bus industry that does its best to trumpet its advantages). I didn’t have to think about them much until I had to think about the implications of living without them. In Zambia I don’t think I saw any school busses. I would see a bus for the nursing school driving around, and one time I wound up on a bus that was almost entirely chartered by a girl’s boarding school that was sending a chunk of students back to Mbala, but as far as I know there aren’t any examples of dedicated public transportation for schools. The upswing of that is that kids have to walk to school. That by itself is good and fine; kids should of course be expected to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow. But what it means is that you wind up having schools every 5-10km or so, so that kids are able to walk to school in under an hour (people at a fairly brisk pace walk about 5km an hour). An hour walk doesn’t sound too bad, until you do it every day both ways in the hot African sun without shoes.

The upswing of having schools every 5-10km is that they have to be small. If the country has so many teachers, and those teachers are going to be split up among so many schools, then the more schools you have the fewer each school gets. One school near me had only one teacher who was teaching, or at least trying to teach, 150 students. So this, I think, is one of the big advantages of busses: they let you consolidate schools. That would allow you to pool resources in a lot of better ways. Teachers could specialize in just one subject or just one grade, which I think could improve teaching. These schools I am talking about are mostly primary schools, which covered grades 1-7. Back in my elementary school, we had one teacher that taught most every subject which I think is normal, but we were able to have a dedicated art teacher and a dedicated computer lab. In Zambia computers are part of the school curriculum, but there is no way these tiny schools would have the resources to maintain a computer. In a more consolidated school, I think you could  manage to have something like that. You might even be able to have a dedicated administrative staff, which would be a boon. In the school with the lone teacher, whenever he needed to talk to the school district office he had to go into town which cost a whole day of instruction.

School busses would also provide a lot more school access. It is sustainable, if less than ideal, to have a whole bunch of primary schools spread around rural areas. But for secondary schools, the curriculum there requires dedicated science teachers and the like. So by necessity (and, unfortunately, demand), there were a far smaller number of secondary schools. The closest secondary school to my village was in Mbala, which like I said is 12km away. This was generally a 2.5-3 hour walk, which is more or less impossible to do every single day if you’re a high school student. The upswing is that secondary schools in Zambia tended to be boarding schools, though if you lived near enough you could of course just be a day student. But boarding schools were necessarily more expensive, and so out of reach of the vast majority of students. If there were school busses that could take students to school, far more students would have access to education.

I tried to find articles and research that could help me determine the exact effects that school busses had on education. I couldn’t find a whole lot that was specifically about busses (I did come across this article, which I think explains my own academic success), so I tried to find research about school size. Turns out there are a lot of articles in that vein, mostly it seems tied to the small schools movement. The general theme in these articles is that smaller schools provide more access to teachers and community, which is good and excellent. An interesting insight in this article is that larger schools are favored by governments because they tend to be cheaper to run. In the context of Zambia, the education system is already pretty dismal due to a lack of budget, so I think that if larger schools are cheaper this could be a major advantage, despite a potential reduction in community, if it means that more students have access to education at all. One newspaper article from 1988 was in line with my thinking, pointing to research that said students in bigger high schools did better because they got to enroll in the more specialized and advanced classes that those schools were able to support.

I would like to see more research on the exact impacts that bussing can have on student’s education, especially with regards to access to education and the effect on schooling. That might be another arrow in the quiver of arguments for why roads are so awesome, because it would be hard or impossible to have busses without an adequate road network. Of course, it might be out of reach anyways; not only would you have to build a whole road network, but according to one article bussing in the United States costs about $500 per pupil per year. In Zambia in 2018, the government was able to allocate about $200 per pupil total for education. There is lots and lots of work to do to make sure every kid can get a quality education.

Boston

IMG_4742

Reading this week:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  • The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

This past weekend (with the usual caveats of time) I went up to Boston with my friend Mike. Mike had been wanting to take a trip up to Boston since last semester and we just never got around to it until now. So we went!

It was a two-day overnight trip. We drove up the morning of Saturday and the first place we went was to the JFK Presidential Museum & Library. That was pretty neat! Frankly there was very little chance I wasn’t going to like the place. JFK started the Peace Corps! There were swords on display! And JFK liked to sail! President Carter and I both graduated from the Naval Academy and served in submarines, and so when I was in the Peace Corps I very purposefully grew peanuts just go rack up another similarity. At the JFK museum I learned that he sailed in the McMillan Cup. Me too! Or at least I remember helping out. It’s been a minute and I would have payed more attention if I had realized. Here’s another true fact though: I once went sailing with Ted Kennedy. So there ya go.

IMG_4743

I also want to note that they had on display a dress from Kennedy’s campaign. I found this neat because I kinda like the idea of people wearing clothing with my name written on it. Maybe this can be another thing JFK and I will have in common in the future. That and a collection of scrimshaw. A boy can dream.

IMG_4771

After the JFK museum Mike and I went to the Sam Adams Brewery to have a look around. This was pretty neat and was worth the price, which was free. I’ve been on more than one brewery tour in my day and I was worried that this would just be us looking at tanks, as is the case with most brewery tours. The above picture is us looking at those tanks. But it was also more! They had a whole bit on ingredients where we got to like, eat some of them, and then afterwards there was a whole beer tasting bit. So yeah, pretty darn alright!

After the brewery tour we finally checked into the hotel and then ventured over to the North End to wander around. We didn’t really mean to but wound up following the Freedom Trail around. I guess large chunks of Boston are on the Freedom Trail so it is hard to avoid. We had dinner at a somewhat overpriced Italian place and then got a drink at a bar. Based on signs I read in bars and restaurants while in Boston, Paul Revere frequented a LOT of different taverns.

IMG_4773

The next day I was hoping to get back by mid-afternoon but we spent the morning wandering around and looking at stuff. We climbed all the way up to the top of the Bunker Hill memorial. That was pretty neat! I had been in the area before but had somehow never made it up the thing. The view is good! I was excited to see a Roro out one window and then the USS Constitution out another window, so that is an excellent set of windows! We stopped by the museum which was informative before wandering down to the Constitution.

IMG_4791

I’ve never been to Boston without visiting the Constitution. Mike originally didn’t want to go because I had already been and he was worried about me not being entertained but tell you what man it is such a great ship. Every time I go I run around looking at lines and rigging and stuff and then cannons and then portholes and looking at the Midshipman pantry (when I was a Midshipman and on the boat I was like “hey that is my pantry). The signs weren’t up this trip so I told Mike everything I could remember about the thing. So fantastic. Much great. Love visiting the ship is the point here.

But yeah with that our Boston trip was over. Pretty nice town!

Guatemala Part VII: Guatemala City

IMG_4633

Pretty kitty!

When I checked into the hotel in Coban I thought travelling to Antigua the next day was going to be simple. I thought I was going to get on a shuttle that would show up in the morning and I would get to Antigua in the early afternoon and everything would be great. This did not happen.

When I got a shuttle ticket the dude at the front counter told me to be ready for the shuttle by 1030, so I was down in the lobby at 1020 having spent the morning reading the news. I waited around because the shuttle might be there as late as 1100, I was warned. At like 1105 it hadn’t come so the dude was calling and at 1115 he led me out front where I was picked up… by a pickup truck. Apparently, we were going to go meet the shuttle elsewhere. He drove me around Coban where I was somewhat disappointed to discover a McDonald’s. Then I was more disappointed to discover we were going to the McDonald’s. I had figured out that this shuttle was coming from elsewhere and so was stopping at McDonald’s for lunch. This was all very disappointing to me. I should have gotten lunch but I didn’t come to Guatemala to eat McDonald’s. The bus showed up and I couldn’t really get on right away because everyone left the bus and I didn’t know what seats were free. It was supposed to be a 15-minute stop (it showed at 1135) but it turned into more like half an hour. I was annoyed because I knew I was going to be hungry, I was next to a McDonald’s, and I thought this shuttle would be fine because I thought it was leaving at 1030, not noon.

Eventually I got on the bus when some other people got on, selecting a seat that appeared empty. It wasn’t. The girl who had been sitting in the seat got on, but didn’t tell me, and instead wandered around confused for a bit until someone else told me. I knew it was her seat at this point but I didn’t care. But then I got up (why should she actually be able to claim it?) and we futzed figuring out where to put me until I wound up… in the jump seat right next to the girl. I was annoyed by the whole thing man but we were on our way. I regret taking the shuttle. There was the thing where it was late but mostly, I don’t like being around the other tourists. I hate saying this, because every tourist complains about tourists and if you’re going to go do touristy things then by definition anywhere you go there are tourists because you are there. But what I don’t understand about this brand of tourist is why they wear shorts. You never see the Guatemalans wearing shorts. Why do they feel the need to? It’s hot? Grow up, it’s not that hot, and if it is too hot for you don’t come to the country. I don’t like how they act and I don’t like how they dress and I don’t like being with them. But on we rode.

Some notes: I saw a field of cabbage. There were several fields of trestles growing I don’t know what. One I saw fully covered in some sort of vines, but on a lot more I saw plastic on the ground or plastic spread across the poles fully or just like plastic strips. The first part of the drive was very foggy. I didn’t get a good look out of the windows because I was in the aisle and also it was foggy. I suspect the driver didn’t get a good look either but I chose to ignore that. We passed a place that was called (in Spanish) “The cabin of the two cheeses and more.” At one point the bus pulled over and it appeared the driver was buying flowers (we were in front of a flower stand) but it seems he was picking up a bag. I would have preferred the flowers. Eventually, it started to clear up more as we gained altitude. The entire drive it seemed was uphill, passing into country that was more dominated by pines than palms. Long stretches of it reminded me of crossing the mountains in Washington, where you’re in a valley that follows a stream with small bridges crossing it. I was getting a headache from not eating but later on we stopped at a convenience store where I got some twinkies so that helped. Some people also got off which opened up some seats, so I got a real chair. I was annoyed to discover that the woman next to me was sprawled out on two seats where I had the seat behind the wheelwell and therefore had no leg room. She also had hung, I believe, her bra off the back of the seat in front of her (off the handle thing) and I think also her underwear/shorts? See what I’m saying about these tourists?

It was about this point that I decided not to take the bus all the way to Antigua. It would be too late for me to see anything. So when we stopped in Guatemala City, I got off and caught a taxi. I really need to learn Spanish because telling the taxi driver where I wanted to go was hard. It was mostly me showing him my phone which was not the best option in a moving car. But at least I was free of the bus. From the taxi I noted that there were dudes selling random stuff at intersections, so I guess some things are just universal. I also saw little McDonald’s signs everywhere, advertising I think like UberEats or whatever. Like little Golden Arches sitting on top of street lights. But the taxi driver who was very nice and helpful got me to the hotel and I got a room. I set out for dinner only to discover that my hotel was next to yet another McDonald’s. I think my new rule for travel will be to not go to countries with McDonald’s in them. They just throw me off man. I don’t like them. But I found a place called a “Pasteleria,” which lead me to believe they would have like, linguini. This was not true, it was a pastry place that was also a cafe, where I had a just fine burrito thing and then went back to the hotel where I took a shower and turned in.

On my full day in Guatemala City, I went to a whole lot of museums. After breakfast I set straight out. I walked to the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Couple of points. First off, the crosswalks work differently. Back home they tell you to stop walking before the light turns. Here it is green for walk right up to the second the cars get a green, so I nearly got run over. The walk was largely about me noticing American food chains. Today I passed Taco bell and Dunkin Donuts. Last night there was Hardees and TGI Friday’s. At the zoo there is a Dominoes. Uber Eats was everywhere! I don’t like it. I also saw a dude on an electric scooter, but that’s unrelated.

IMG_4559

I made it to the museum at like 0920. It was supposed to open at 0900, but when I found the door the security guard had me wait a few more minutes. I finally got in at 0930. It is not a well-trafficked museum, but it is pretty fantastic. Very modern, very well done, and packed with artifacts. It was cool wandering around. They had the bones of one of the rulers of Tikal just tucked away in a corner and that’s crazy. After wandering through and I next decided to go to the zoo. The zoo was also fantastic. Super well done. Tons of animals. Frankly it felt a bit silly because the first part is “Africa Land” and well, I’ve seen a number of these animals in real life. Real life is a dumb thing to say. In the wild. But I enjoyed seeing the Spanish names of these guys, and they had jaguars and I wanted to see those while in Guatemala. So that was fantastic. I had lunch at the hotdog place at the zoo, where you could order a “Gringo Hot Dog.” It was indeed how I would normally eat a hot dog, but I had the “Mexicano” instead. Then it was across the street to the Artisan Market. I was looking for the touristy kitcsh but they didn’t have the kitsch I was looking for so I left without buying anything.

IMG_4467

The mortal remains of the legendary Jasaw Chan K’awiil, 18th ruler in the dynastic line of succession at Tikal.

Since I was close, I went to the Natural History Museum that was next to the Archaeology museum. It was pretty bad. That’s not fair, it was just basic natural history stuff (and an elephant and giraffe skeleton) so I didn’t spend any time in there. I decided to flag down a taxi and go across town to the other natural history museum, the USC one or something. I arrived and in some rapid-fire Spanish I believe what the lady said was that the museum was closed but the botanical gardens were open and hey it was free so I looked at the gardens. They were very lovely.

IMG_4674

Botanical gardens.

From there I still had time for museums so I walked to the Museo Ixchel & Popol Vuh. Or at least tried to. It’s on the campus of a college and I wandered in trying to go where maps.me took me and it took me into the dorms of Galileo college. Which are nice! I asked a security guard about it, saying “museo,” or so I thought, and he lead me on a winding route up to what I think was a media lab, where I met some more nice people, who finally understood I was saying “museo” (I can’t imagine what I was really saying), and then the security guard lead me to the right place. Those museums were nice but I was going through them a bit perfunctorily. I am not actually that interested in textiles, though they had several looms and it occurred to me I don’t actually know how to operate one. After I got home I ordered a Guatemalan backstrap loom off of etsy.

IMG_4692

Textiles!

Then I popped over to Popol Vuh which is full of artifacts. So that was neat. Learned about the Dresden Codex and stuff. Um yeah. At this point I was tired and my foot was hurting me so I hobbled back to the hotel where I chilled for a bit, looking forward to my flight home the next day. And then, defeated by other food options, I gave in and went to McDonald’s.

Guatemala Part VI: Aguateca

IMG_4320

I was worried about making it to Sayache, so I woke up at like 0630 and got my stuff together and left the hotel at like 0700. I found a Tuk-Tuk and told him I was going to Sayache and so he sped me off to the bus station and found me the right bus. I pretty much stepped off the tuk-tuk, stepped onto the bus, and off we went. We patrolled the town slightly for more riders, stopping at the market for a while, but so far, I had been impressed with Guatemalan busses by how little they stay waiting for passengers. They’ll go with less than a full bus confident they’ll pick up people along the way. The conductors in Guatemala and in Zambia could otherwise be close brothers, however. The ride out the side and yell in the same way, and today I even got a “yes boss.” So that reminded me of Zambia.

In the market I saw some stuff, including a whole stack of saddles on the back of a truck that were to stock up some store for sale. I also in Sayache saw some like, home-made saddles (I think) out of I think cow-hide. So it is a whole thing. I wrote down in my notebook that the minibus was squeezing through the market, and there was not a lot of clearance for sure. I saw a guy in a “USS Enterprise CVN-65” hat so I thought that was neat. I saw an absolutely gigantic bull on the back of a pickup truck in one of those cages they have on the back of the trucks, with its horns sticking out the top. I bothered to look today too and I saw street food vendors cooking over both gas and wood but no charcoal. I wonder why? Some other things I noted to note was that I haven’t been stared at, which, I dunno, I’m a little hurt. I also haven’t seen any dumbphones, just smartphones. Un-Zambia-like.

Eventually we set off in earnest and I was rewarded by the sight of a full-on cowboy. Like riding on the back of a horse (I think he was the first horserider I saw) with a cowboy hat and overshirt flapping in the breeze. Magnificent. Later on one of the bus passengers had a “Wrangler” shirt (it said Wrangler), and based on his hat and boots I believe he actually wrangled so that was cool. I also saw a cow being hog-tied with a dude on a horse next to it, so this is legit cattle country. Eventually and without trouble we got to Sayache. The bus dropped us off and for lack of better ideas I took the ferry across the river to the town proper. I said I might show up at like 1000 and I actually arrived at 0900 so my plan was to find some breakfast. As I stopped off the boat however I heard a “Patrick?” and there was Don Pedro. He was ready to put me on a boat but I mentioned breakfast so he led me over to a street food kinda stand where in a bit of a daze I ordered roast chicken for breakfast. That chicken was absolutely phenomenal. I awkwardly ate (I don’t really know what to do with the tortillas) and asked for some bottles of water and I was loaded up into a boat. Don Pedro wasn’t coming but handed me off to “mi capitan.” I never got his name but he was very nice.

IMG_4266

IMG_4274

We were in a small metal boat with a canopy and comfortable-ish seats. The ride to the site was pretty awesome. We went fast down the river but it was still about an hour and a half of riding. I saw all sorts of stuff on the river. There were homesteads and cattle farms. There were places where they obviously loaded cattle onto barges and that I wish I could have seen, a cattle barge. At one point a pack of dogs came running when they heard the boat and I thought that was cute. We waved to all sorts of people and there was a good chunk of river traffic. It mostly seemed to be people collecting firewood; I saw more than one boat being loaded. On the way back there was a little caravan of two canoes, the front one with a motor and towing the second one, both loaded down totally and with an old dude up front and two kids steering (one on the motor and another with a paddle in the rear one). I enjoyed speeding down the river and capitan was not bashful about taking turns. It got really fun towards the end when the river narrowed. In the meantime, we went through that big lake and that was cool. It is edged with these jungle-covered hills so it really looked like you were coming up on some sort of I dunno unexplored realm. There were tons of birds all along the path too. More than once a bird launched and then we wound up chasing it down the river as it twisted and turned around the bends. There was a small blue heron thing I took care to note. I also saw muscovy ducks.

IMG_4284

Path to Aguateca.

IMG_4301

When you arrive at Agauteca you dock in this small lagoon at the end of a narrower and narrower river. You pull up to the riverbank and then scramble up to the entrance. They had clearly planned a much bigger site as there is a partially-completed but abandoned visitor’s center that is fairly large with signs all over the place. There were dudes that worked there but they mostly just said hi and capitan had me sign in (there were three French guys there the day before, and it looks like it gets about a person a day; I had the place to myself) and he guided me through the place. First you walk along the bottom of some tall cliffs. There were tons and tons of mosquitos so I didn’t like to stop for long. At the end of the cliffs there is a viewpoint that gives you majestic views of the river you just came down and the plains beyond. Then you circle back around and walk through a ravine. The ravine splits the site and over it is a natural bridge and an artificial bridge. Scrambling down the thing was actually sorta harrowing but I made it up and down. Capitan knew where people liked to take pictures and asked for my camera to take a picture of me at every spot. Then we scrambled back up out of the ravine and viewed the site proper. I don’t know how much is or isn’t uncovered of the place, but the temples there are rather smaller than the other ones I have seen, but it seems more intimate as you visit more of the residential palaces and things. We walked through and saw all sorts of stuff and replica stelae and some real stelae still laying where they fell. I think the whole tour was about an hour and a half and I was glad to be done with the mosquitoes. So back on the boat and another great time zooming down the river.

IMG_4311

Not every picture he took was good.

IMG_4337

He also insisted on this one. Why do I pose like this?

IMG_4371

This is the only intact, man-made stone bridge known in the Mayan world.

IMG_4376

Me & Capitan.

We arrived back at Sayache and I paid capitan and retrieved my backpack and then I went to go search for some lunch. I walked around looking for something that looked like a restaurant and found nothing. Embarrassed, I went to a fried chicken place and had some chicken and fries and then found a bus for Coban by wandering around saying “Coban.” Getting to Coban was to be a bit of an adventure. Things I saw along the way were a massive palm oil planation, so that was neat, and then the sight of us approaching the mountains, with their tops clouded in mist.

IMG_4386

Coban.

Unfortunately disaster struck. As we were stopping to pick up a guy the engine stalled. They tried to start it and tried to roll downhill to start it but eventually ran out of hill and we were out of the bus as they worked on the engine. Another bus came though and the conductor loaded us all on that and so off we were again. We got to the hills and I noted how sharp and steep they were. Like vertical limestone dunes or something. I settled in to read, but I should have paid more attention. There is a fork in the road and I wasn’t thinking or listening to the guy and some people got out but I stayed on the bus and we went to the wrong way down the fork (or at least away from Coban). I said “por Coban?” to the conductor and he said some stuff and what wound up happening is I rode to the next down and got off there. The conductor said some stuff and I was confused but eventually it turned out that he was pointing to an empty spot saying that the bus for Coban would come but it wasn’t there yet. I figured this out talking to tuk-tuk drivers and another bus driver. Eventually a bus came and I got on and we left pretty quick. The next part of the ride took a while thought I don’t know how long it normally would have taken. The windows in the van were pretty tinted, and as night fell it started to mist and this was a whole like, mood, as we went into the cloud-shrouded jungle mountains. It kinda started to rain actually too and the van didn’t have effective windshield wipers as we navigated steep turns and hills with no streetlights and I pretended not to notice. At some point the van stopped by the side of the road (it seemed to me) and we all got out. Turns out we were in Coban. I think I left Sayache at like 1400 and got to Coban at 1900 or so. I got a taxi to take me to the hotel where a flustered seeming dude checked me in. I had high hopes when I saw there was a 1030 shuttle to Antigua.

Guatemala Part V: Flores & Yaxha

IMG_4078

Horses.

On this day I woke up super early to loud, regular banging. Some investigations later in the day lead me to believe that it was fireworks being set off by the church on the top of the hill for reasons I am unaware of. There doesn’t seem to be a large party or anything. But that was fine because I wanted to set off early this morning to try to see the sights over across the lake again. I got over across the lake at like 0830, so I thought I had set myself up well. I even had my camera. I walked up to the museum that is over there and was disappointed to find out that it was closed Mondays. So that plan was shot. Then I thought I would walk to the zoo. It didn’t seem too far. I went down a road I thought would lead me to it, which then went down to a footpath along the lake. This turns out was nowhere near where I needed to be, so I turned around and went down the right road, thinking I could make it if I hustled. I turned back at like 0945 though; it was too far to walk and a convenient tuk-tuk hadn’t come by. I should have grabbed a tuk-tuk by the harbor but I didn’t think this through, like much of the rest of the vacation.

IMG_4077

Gardens!

IMG_4094

More gardens! Jeez I love gardens.

However, the walk was very nice. I got to see a lot of people’s gardens and that rather excited me. They had a whole wide variety of things growing, along with my absolute favorite, which is cocoyam (taro) and banana planted close to one another. That gets me excited every single time. I got barked at by a number of dogs, including wee little ones, and I saw some horses. There were coconut palms and dugout canoes and it was a very good walk even if I had nothing in particular to report.

IMG_4096

I was worried about making it for my noon bus, so I went back to Flores, but I got there at like, 1030. So then I had time to kill. I was, however, getting worried about Aguateca the next day. My plan was to just go to Sayache and figure it out, but this seemed like a bad plan based on experience. So I wandered into yet another tourist agency to ask about a tour. There I learned there are no collective trips to Aguateca like there are to Tikal or Yaxha, so I was never going to find an easy book. He could arrange a private tour, but the last one he did was 8 months before and it would be about 2000Q. That was good info but didn’t solve my problem. I decided to get lunch to make sure I wasn’t hungry at Yaxha, and at lunch I realized I could text this Don Pedro guy the guidebook talks about. I was afraid of talking to him on the phone because I felt like we couldn’t communicate. But by texting I could use Google Translate so it worked out. Over the course of the afternoon I got things sorted out and I think his daughter speaks English. We communicated over a number of phone numbers. It will cost 600Q which is kind of a lot for just a little trip but by now I was invested in this. I was still worried about making it to Sayache at a reasonable hour and I just hoped the busses would work out.

IMG_4111

Yaxha ball court.

After lunch I ran back to the hotel to grab my passport which I kept forgetting (I didn’t need it, turns out) and went to the I ❤ Peten sign for the bus. I got the bus and it was pretty smooth sailing from there. I took notes on the trip again, but for a while there I fell asleep. It was like a 2-hour ride. I finally saw some saddles hanging on a railing; I hadn’t seen one yet despite all thase horses. I saw sugarcane which I hadn’t noted before. I have talked about wondering what houses are made of and so I noted I saw wooden plank houses and a shed made of sticks like they did in Eastern Province in Zambia. I saw a wooden plank house with a garage for a jeep Cherokee looking thing. I finally saw some goats in a pen but they could have been sheep. I also noted that tourists keep worrying about Tikal being busy; but it never gets that busy it seems to me. It isn’t Disneyworld. I noted to look up how they generate electricity in Guatemala, and what they cook on; I hadn’t seen any charcoal. I also hadn’t seen any land cruisers like they have in Zambia either.

IMG_4116

Lake view (lake level).

As we got close to the park I think I started to see palmfruit palms, and noted there were more thatched roofs, even alongside like nice elevated houses or cinderblock construction. We eventually got to the gate of the park to buy tickets. It seemed like a confusing system to me. You first filled out like a comment form, then went around the corner to a ticket counter where you bought a ticket at one window and then next to it was another window where they gave you an armband which I almost missed. I wandered around looking for the ruins thinking we were there, but we had to get back on the bus. We arrived at the actual site at about 1430. I was in the group with the guide so I listened to him for a while but he really annoyed me. He did that engaging with the audience thing that I hate and also talked about a lot of cultural stuff that wasn’t Yaxha (turns out pronounced “Josh-Ha”) so half an hour into this thing we were still in sight of the car park. So I ditched and wandered around.

IMG_4129

Lake view (temple level).

The place was pretty cool. It is next to a lake and you can go down to the lake and check it out (the tour group didn’t go down there), and there is a big covered temple where you can go to the top. The site is smaller than Tikal, though he said only 10% was discovered. One of the more remarkable parts is a well-preserved causeway, so you can actually kinda see and understand what they were talking about in Tikal. Throughout the place were these howler monkees that were screaming and sounded like dinosaurs, because I guess Jurassic Park used them for dinosaur sounds. I was trying to keep an eye on where the group was because I needed to leave with them of course, but I misunderstood where they were watching the sunset. I didn’t want to hang out long so at 1700 I arrived at the temple where I thought we were watching the sunset (the sunset was going to be at 1740) where thankfully there was a park ranger dude. He said they watched the sunset from this totally different temple, so I ran over there and tried to act cool. I took some pictures from the base and then went up and pretended I wasn’t sweaty and panting.

IMG_4158

Causeway.

It was gorgeous up there though, seeing the sun right in front of the temple and over the lake. The thing was to keep quiet, so it was pretty silent up there, and again like at Tikal I just liked the sensation of a bunch of people watching the sunset like they must have done back in the day. From there it was back on the bus and home. I ate dinner here at the hotel, got cash for the next day, and took a hot shower.

IMG_4167

Not the right temple.

IMG_4224

Also not the right temple.

IMG_4232

And here is your reward for scrolling!

Guatemala Part IV: More Tikal & Flores

IMG_3954

This is the one photo of me I got someone else to take.

On my final day at Tikal I woke up early to go on the sunrise tour. I reported to the hotel lobby at 0340 (a bit of a harrowing trek to get there; they had turned out the path lights and as I was walking a big ole’ spider descended from the trees into the path; I skirted it) to find a large and kinda boisterous group of Americans waiting to go. We set out and were supposed to split into two groups; a Spanish group and an English group. I was with the English group until we got to the gate. There, we discovered the Americans didn’t have sunrise tour tickets so they left and I was with the Spanish group. Fine by me. We wandered up through the park to Temple IV, pausing at group N I think to talk about the stelae and stuff. As we hiked through the woods it was nice to just listen to the forest.

We got to the Temple and ascended the stairs. I was in front and was in fact the very first person at the top of the temple that morning. So that was kinda neat. My Spanish group came up behind me and as the morning went on more people trickled up of course. I had arrived at the top at around 0500. I would say at 0530 the forest got a little boisterous with the howler monkeys calling to each other from across the valleys. At this point the sky was had maybe of hint of brightening. It wasn’t a good sunrise morning, as it was overcast, but as the guide pointed out we are in the rainforest (so, you know, expect clouds). Some things I liked about being up there were watching the flashlights snake through the trees making their way to the temple. I thought it was like a procession before a ceremony. I liked being up there with people because I felt that it was something the Mayans would have done, watching the sunrise together. There was one American couple with some nice camera equipment (phone Steadicam thingy), but they kept shushing some Japanese ladies that were up there with us. The Japanese ladies would talk and most gallingly for these people their phones weren’t on silent. I don’t know why the ladies were looking at their phones but I am on their side; they paid for their ticket too. No one cares if their dings are getting into your instagram videos. Despite that I liked the communal nature of the experience. There was a family to my right with small kids, talking quietly with each other and just enjoying the company of family. Another woman eventually came and sat next to me. Later I learned her private guide never showed up so she was worried he stole all her stuff, and had only gotten into the park by joining another group.

IMG_4061

People at the top of the temple.

At the top of the temple we listened to the forest wake up. Twittering birds and monkeys calling each other, and frogs croaking along. There were monkeys swinging around in the trees just below the top of the temple so that was cool. I wonder what they were doing all the way up there? I think I saw a bat flit by while it was dark. Eventually the sun came up more fully, directly ahead of us from the temple (though we couldn’t see it), illuminating the other temple tops in the park. Then at about 0630 it was time to go and I descended the temple with my guide. We walked slowly back to the entrance passing by some more temples. He was kind enough to explain things to me in English after speaking in Spanish, but mostly I was anxious for breakfast. Good end to my time in Tikal.

After breakfast I went to go do some souvenir shopping. That went fine and I bought some bone carvings (one for me, one for my brother) and a bracelet for another friend, which the lady threw in free. My left leg starting hurting a whole lot, like shooting pains, so I hobbled back to the room and took some ibuprofen and read some until it was time for me to go. I checked out and then went to go see where my bus was going to show. On Friday the guide had told people to wait at the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure that was right so I waited at this information booth thing where I could see the road in front of the restaurant and the parking lot. Eventually a driver from one of the busses came over and asked if I was going to Flores. I showed him my ticket and some broken Spanish later he agreed to take me; I guess they have a pool arrangement. But then I got passed through a series of very friendly drivers who found me a spot. So that was very nice. As we were going around for passengers, I saw the girl from the temple who recognized me and waved; she was wearing a dress she wasn’t before so I guess she got her stuff back. Then we were off for Flores. I had to work to stay awake so I could look out the window. What I saw was some people playing soccer in a basketball court, so that was neat. I also reflected the Maya didn’t have any large grazing animals, so the landscape you see now outside the park wouldn’t be totally the same because they wouldn’t have grazing land for cows. I also wondered what the average Guatemalan house was made of because I saw a pit that could have been for brickmaking but I don’t know if they use mud bricks. I think it is mostly cinderblock. I also saw something that looked like a monument to a plane crash outside Flores and I wonder what that was about.

IMG_3931

I had remembered the guy that sold me my ticket to Tikal saying they had a bus to Yaxha that left at 1230, so I was hoping to make it to the station in time to see Yaxha that same day. We got back at 1215 but unfortunately the busses for that day were “finished.” Disappointed, I took a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel and got a room and decided to have lunch and think things over. I was upset my trip wasn’t as efficient as I had hoped but I had been reading Paul Theroux and he seems to spend a lot of time hanging out reading. So maybe it isn’t all bad. After lunch I went to go investigate travel and was again disappointed to find out that Yaxha busses only leave at like, noon. I was hoping to see Yaxha in the morning and make it to Sayache in the afternoon. I also asked the guy about Aguateca, but again no good news. The travel agencies advertise for Aguateca but there are no group tours; they can arrange solo travel but that becomes very expensive. That travel agency gave me a coupon for a free shot at a place called Sky Bar though. I wandered off around the island and eventually came to the ferries over across the lake. I decided to hop on it and then remembered the reason I was intending to go back to the hotel first was to grab my camera. Oh well; I had my shitty phone camera.

IMG_4070

Across the narrow part of the lake from Flores is the very small town of San Miguel. I got over there and wandered up the road to where the guidebook says there is an archeological site. I wandered along gravel roads which was nice actually because I got to see some of rural Guatemala I had been hoping to see. Eventually I came to an actual nice trailer and a guy who works for the department of whatever it is in charge of this stuff (Culture & Sports, I think), who had me sign a book but didn’t charge me an entry fee. Neat. You wander up some stairs to find an observation tower on top of what is apparently an unexcavated temple. They should really excavate it so people will stay here instead of going all the way to Tikal. I admired the views around at the lake and then wandered off to find the stelae the guidebooks talk about. There are lots of paths and I wandered mostly at random until I found a sign for “Acropolis,” which I followed and which lead to a sort of clearing with a single stela under a roof. They should really do some excavation man; there is what is obviously a wall and I am always agog at the thought that the Mayan were just chillin’ where people today are also just chillin’.

After I had my fill of walking, I wandered back and caught a boat back and then took a shower at the hotel. I had the idea to watch the sunset at Sky Bar (given my free shot) so I went there. The place was pretty terrible. I did manage to sit next to two girls from London who were friendly, but I wasn’t exactly suave. In the hour and a half I was at sky bar I managed to only get one beer despite also ordering food so in disgust I left (the girls had already bounced). I found some small mom and pop shop where I had a fairly priced but pretty bad steak, thought I enjoyed it because it was there and the place seemed friendly. They had a nativity scene lit up with flashing Christmas lights though and with like, model Mary & Joseph but a life-size baby Jesus. Also they had an old typewriter like on display near the door. After that I wandered to the top of the island where I thought they had been setting up a party. I mean they had but it seemed like it was going to start later than I was willing to hang out for, so I came back to the hotel and read.

IMG_3964

This is a random temple from Tikal. I, too, question my photo choices.