Sueños Ahogados

I almost bought land here, when Jane and I were first married.  It measured 20 x 120 meters, stretching up from the lake in three terraces, planted in corn.  We planned to build and eventually move there.  A year later, we decided, mostly for financial reasons, to abandon the idea.  I forfeited a sizable deposit, but saved much more.

It is technically illegal for an extranjero (foreigner) to buy lakefront property in Guatemala, but the prohibition appears to be enforced about as diligently as speed laws are in the United States, possibly even less.  Recently, I have come to the realization that the prohibition, at least here at Lago Atitlan, is more a caution and protection, also similar to our speed laws.

Lago Atitlan lies in a valley formed by three volcanos and a number of high ridges and peaks.  It is nearly 1000 feet deep, with no visible egress.  It is thought that there is a subterranean river which allows water to escape from the bottom of the lake, thus maintaining its level.

The level of the lake has fluctuated over the centuries, at times higher than it is at present, at others much lower.  There are stories of ancient Mayan ruins hidden beneath its waters.

Several years ago, a seismic event blocked or partially blocked the egress at the bottom of the lake, and, in the ensuing years, the water level has risen by close to 20 vertical feet, drowning cornfields, homes, businesses, and 2/3 of the property I decided not to buy. The remaining third is under threat still, and useless for construction as it is too close to the water.

Many of the buildings either completely or partially submerged belonged to foreigners who, like me, did not know the history or geology of the lake.

I have visited Lago Atitlan and San Pedro five times now.  The first time one photographs a place, everything is fresh, interesting, and different.  Even on my second and third visits, I was still finding new ways to see and record.  The last time I was here, six years ago, I took very few photos, concentrating predominately on my Spanish studies.

It is challenging to find new ways to photograph in a familiar environment.  I have been trying to exercise this skill at home, going into the alley behind my house and seeking new images in the mundane, everyday surroundings that I take for granted.

I am currently frustrated because, although I can do the same thing here, photographing San Pedro as an already familiar place, I am aware that, since my early visits, my abilities as a photographer have grown.  Many of the photographs I took when this place was fresh and new to me are crude and amateurish.  I am struggling to learn how to photograph San Pedro as if I had never seen it.  If I am successful, I would like to photograph Tucson in the same way.

For the moment, the inundation of so many hopes and dreams by the rising waters has provided me with subjects that I love, ruin and decay, while giving me something of the experience of a first time visitor.

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Waiting In Guatemala

Waiting is something I do a lot of. In large part, this is due to my propensity for early arrivals. Invite me for dinner at six, and I will have to drive around the block a couple of times so as to be merely five minutes early.

My sense of time urgency stems from my father. We lived an hour from Newark Airport when I was growing up in New Jersey. My father insisted that we leave the house four hours ahead of our flight time, just in case. So, I learned to wait, sitting in the airport for hours, whether we were flying somewhere or merely meeting a guest. Once, over the course of 20 years, we were caught in traffic and arrived just in time to catch our flight.
I have a much moderated sense of time urgency. I am usually early, but never to a ridiculous extent, and, occasionally, I am a few minutes late.

Still, I often find myself waiting for the world to catch up. This has taught me patience. I also learned patience from my mother, who is still in a loving marriage with my father after 58 years. I won’t go into detail, but my father, who is a good, kind, admirable man, nonetheless could tax the patience of all but the most remarkable of persons. I suspect I also inherited this trait.

My flight arrived early yesterday in to the Guatemala City Airport. I was bringing a large box containing a refurbished iMac desktop computer for my friend Rene, who owns the Orbita Spanish School, where I will be aumentando mi Español this month. I expected difficulty with la aduana (customs), but, after ascertaining that the computer was not a new one, they waved my through, and I pushed my cart out on to the sidewalk outside the terminal to be accosted by the familiar crew of touts, offering taxis, shuttles, or phone calls for a small, undefined remittance. I repeatedly said “No, gracias. Espero mi amigo”, until they all got the message, and then I waited.

Across the street, behind a metal barricade, 100 or more people waited, some with signs indicating the name of a hotel and/or tourist. There were less of these than usual. It is the rainy season, so most of the passengers on the plane had been Guatemaltecos.

I scanned the crowd for Rene, expecting to hear him call my name, but he wasn’t there. I waited. I had been one of the first through customs, my long, American legs propelling me through the maze of corridors ahead of my fellow passengers. One by one, they came through the glass doors from the airport to be whisked away by friends and family. The crowd behind the barricade dwindled to a couple of dozen, then to a handful, and, finally, I was left on the sidewalk with four or five people also waiting for rides. The touts started coming up again, asking if I wanted to make a phone call. “Lastima,” I said sheepishly, “No tengo el numero.”

After an hour and a half, the last of the passengers was picked up by her daughter. I went inside for a much needed pee, and then returned curbside to consider my options.

I learned from one of the touts that there had been a terrible derrumbe, or landslide, in the city, causing extensive disruption of traffic, along with several dozen deaths. Landslides are common at this time of year, bringing sodden hillsides down upon roads and often, tragically, homes.

At this point I began to wonder if Rene was going to make it, and I was feeling progressively more foolish for not having written down his phone number.

Usually, upon arrival in Guatemala, I take a shuttle from the airport to Antigua, stay a day or so, and then catch another to Lago Atitlan and San Pedro.

I was considering this option when a small car pulled up and out popped Rene, with a big smile on his face. He had been delayed not only by traffic in the city, but also by severely deteriorating roads around the lake.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making me a patient person, comfortable with waiting.


Women washing clothes in Lago Atitlan


The Missions Of Padre Kino, Part 1

I recently returned from two days in northern Sonora, Mexico, where I visited seven missions built by Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino.  With the four I have visited in Arizona, this brings the number I have visited to eleven of the more than 20 he built.  I will begin in Caborca and work my way back to Tucson.

La Purisma Concepcion De Caborca was founded in 1693 and the structure completed in 1809.  This was the only one of the missions visited on this trip where I did not have optimal light, due to our early morning arrival, so this is an oblique shot from the rear.


Just east of Caborca is the mission San Diego De Piquito, constructed in the 1780’s.  The interior is filled with paintings, so I was disappointed not to have access.


The San Antonio De Oquitoa mission sits in the middle of a picturesque cementerio, and is the oldest of the missions still in use, built before 1767.


Further north is the mission San Pedro Y San Pablo De Tubutama. Thanks to the delightful 82 year old Maria Elena, I was able to gain access to the interior, with its intricately sculpted plaster walls and ceilings.  There is also a small gift shop adjacent, where I found this historic photo Of the 1780’s mission.


Here it is today.



and this is Maria Elena, who has lived in Tubutama for half her life.


Santa Maria Magdalena is probably the best known of the Sonoran missions.  It was built in the 1830’s and has been heavily modified.  There is a small building in the adjacent park where one can see what are allegedly the bones of Father Kino in a glass covered hole, and there is a famous yearly pilgrimage on October 4th to honor St. Francis Xavier.





Just north of Magdalena is San Ignacio De Caborica, where I was allowed in by a local resident who had the key, and permitted to climb the bell tower via an ancient mesquite staircase. This mission was built in the late 1800’s.






Finally, the northernmost of the missions we visited, and the only one no longer in use, the ruined Santiago Y Nuestra Señora De Pilar De Cocospera, begun in 1695, but burned in a series of Apache attacks soon after, and abandoned in 1845.




I hope you have enjoyed my little trip through some of the missions of northern Sonora.  It was a very enjoyable couple of days for me, and I plan to return to seek out some of the lesser known missions.



From My Experience, The French Are Very Nice People

Earlier today, I was casually disparaging the French as rude American-haters in the response to a post on Facebook when it occurred to me that, in my entire life, I have known exactly one Frenchman. He is married to my first Arizona girlfriend and we spent many an hour playing Boules during the year and a half that they were here trying to start a restaurant. He learned English from a Scotsman, and is completely unintelligible unless he pretends to be John Wayne, which he does almost perfectly. Jean Yves is a great guy, and a very talented chef. Holly is a great gal with an unrealistically optimistic opinion of the likelihood that all the stars will align for her pipe dream of the moment. I admire her, not so much for her boundless optimism and enthusiasm as for her ability to bounce back from repeated failure and disappointment. The restaurant never happened, and they packed up and went back to the Bay area, where, together, they managed to afford the rent on a house, something that should impress anyone who has lived in or near San Francisco. They are now in France, the second country Holly has emigrated to with a husband. The first was Qatar, with the father of her son. I would have advised against both marriages, being 50% pessimist (I got it from my father), but, although I never met her first husband, I have seen enough of her son to know that he is an admirable young man, and as I said, Jean Yves is a great guy. I guess what I am getting at is that thinking about this makes me wonder how much I have missed in life through caution or fear. How many times have I said “I shouldn’t” or “I can’t”, when I should have or could have? <insert three word cliche here>


Political Predictions

Hillary Clinton’s’s campaign will start slinging mud at Bernie Sanders when he hits 20% in the polls. He will continue to stay on message, and it will be a very close primary, despite all of Clinton’s money. The Republicans will do what they did last time around, with the crazies rising to the surface and self destructing one after another, until the most banal of them all is left standing, maybe Jeb Bush. If it is a contest between Bernie and Jeb, Bernie will wipe the floor with him, taking many disaffected Tea Partiers and Independents away from the Republican party, possibly with enough coattails to take back at least the Senate. If it is Hillary vs anyone, it will be close til the end, with virtually no change in Congress. If Bernie becomes president, he and his idealistic supporters will slam in to the same wall of reality that Obama and his did. Within a year, he will be called a sellout and weak by those same idealists, as he compromises and battles congressional inertia to try to get anything done.


The Sky Is Falling!

There is much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in liberal circles today.  It is reminiscent of so many other moments during Barack Obama’s presidency.  It’s like a game of paranoid telephone.  Some pundit somewhere warns that if Obama does something, something else might happen that would be bad.  Before you know it, that has become “Obama did this and the bad thing is going to happen!”  Not long after, it is “Obama, in league with the Devil himself, has opened the gates of hell and demons are pouring out!!!”  Remember when Obama made a deal with Republicans to extend the debt ceiling and completely caved to all their demands, destroying everything that liberals have fought and died for over the years?  Of course you don’t.  As soon as it became obvious that he had completely snowed the Republicans, tricking them into cutting all their own pet programs while leaving ours intact, you completely forgot your panic and moved on to the next imaginary crisis that was about to be caused by something Obama might do.

The latest liberal Chicken Little episode concerns Fast Track and the TPP negotiations.  Based on an 18 month old Wikileaks release of a preliminary draft of one section of the treaty, liberals have decided, en masse, that Obama has gone over to the dark side and created NAFTA on steroids to appease his corporate masters.  First of all, none of the people screaming about this treaty know what is in it.  They just know what they are afraid might be in it, or, in the case of certain politicians, what it might possibly contain that they can use to frighten uninformed voters into sending them money.

People complain that the negotiations are secret.  There is a very good reason they are secret.  Negotiations involve give and take, asking for more than you want so you can come close to what you need.  Giving in order to get.  They would be absolutely impossible with 350 million Americans kibitzing from the sidelines.  That is why we elected the people who are doing this.

But, you say, Obama wants congress to pass Fast Track and let him have whatever he wants with no oversight!  No, grasshopper, that is not what Fast Track is.  There will be 60 days, two whole months, during which every single word of the treaty will be public.  We will all be able to go through it, see what is actually in it, pick it apart, analyze it, and, if it really sucks, ask our representatives to vote against it, because in the end, they will still get to vote on it.  Of course they can’t amend it.  It is a negotiated treaty.  Amending it is tantamount to throwing it in the trash and starting negotiations over again.  Fast Track just makes them own up to the fact that they want to kill it.

“What about all those patent protections for the evil corporations?”, you say, referring back to that 18 month old preliminary draft of one small portion of the deal, “What about that?”  Don’t you want American companies to be protected from copyright violation by China, and other Asian countries known for their intellectual property theft?  Should we just eliminate patent protection?  Really?

“What about companies being able to sue the United States (or other countries) If their business is damaged by local laws?  Doesn’t that threaten our sovereignty?” This is also from that 18 month old preliminary draft, so we don’t yet know exactly what is in it, but there are provisions like it in every trade deal in existence, and the US has never been successfully sued.  Remember, this will be pored over and vetted by every single member of congress and their staff.  If the sky is really falling, they can vote it down.

I voted for this president because I trusted him to do what is in the best interests of our country, and because I think his ideals are significantly in line with my own.  I see no benefit in speculation as to what might happen if he takes some imaginary action.  Judging from the way he has conducted his presidency thus far, I think we are in good hands.