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Well, we are back!

Unbelievably – FORTY MINUTES EARLY last night, on a direct flight from LGA to BHM. To be hitting your own bed right at the time you were supposed to be landing? Priceless.

A flight, which, incidentally, demonstrated why BHM doesn’t get many direct flights out of here – maybe 12 passengers on a not-tiny plane?

I have one major Tedious Think Post that comes from experiences of seeing Hadestown, Billy Joel at MSG, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Old Saint Patrick’s and the “new” Saint Patrick’s. But before that, I have an article due on Monday.

As per usual with trips of over a day or so, I like to recap – more for my aging, addled, sieve-like brain than anything else. But also to help you, if you’re planning a trip!

NYC 2/16-21

Why? 

Oldest “kid” lives there now (has for three years). Billy Joel was playing one of his mostly-monthly gigs at Madison Square Garden, something we’d been talking about doing for the past year. This date was perfect for us – not on a weekend and during a sort-of off season – mid February is probably about as off-season in NYC as you’re going to get – so prices and crowds were a little lower. (Although it was a vacation week for NYC school kids – why?  – so places like the Natural History Museum were mob scenes – we’ve been there a couple of times, and it was not on this week’s possibilities, but we did get off at that subway stop Tuesday morning, and geez louise, as we say down here – I was very glad we didn’t want to go there. )

Where?

I am all about price on these visits, and with that priority in mind, we’ve stayed in various spots. On brief stopovers, we’ve stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Astoria. I liked that location, actually – an interesting area, and not a bad ride in. We stayed in Long Island City once, which was okay – but I wouldn’t do it again. There was the time we stayed at a Hampton Inn in Brooklyn.

This time we stayed, as we have once before, at the Leo House on 23rd, in Chelsea. 

It has a very interesting history that you can read about here– its origins were as a guest house for recent German immigrants. It’s old – with some renovations, but still signs of age in rooms, especially the bathrooms – and it’s old-fashioned in that you turn your (real) key in at the front desk when you leave the hotel, and only registered guests are allowed in the rooms.

 

 

Because it was February, I could have gotten a decent deal on a room in “regular” hotels – chain or independent – in the city, but for five nights, I really wanted space, and sure didn’t want to spend a ton on it. Poking around the Leo House website in early January, I happened upon one of their deals. They always have discounts of one sort or another available, but this was particularly deep – for a two-bedroom room. In fact, it was the same room, the three of us (w/now-college kid) stayed in a couple of years ago. But for…cheaper. A lot. It was so low, I wasn’t completely sure it wasn’t a mistake, and went armed and ready of my printout of the receipt. No problem, as it turned out. So that was a good start.

It’s a convenient location, near subway stops that will get you anywhere in a decent amount of time. Included is  a pretty nice breakfast in a very pleasant space. And you walk to the end of the block, and this is your view:

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What?

As I said, this is more for me than you folks, but if it gives you insight into sights you’d want to see, all the better.

(Getting around – bought 7-day unlimited passes, which I think we paid for by Day 3. Mostly subway, with a couple of rather excruciating bus rides in there.)

Sunday:

Flight into LGA a little early. Arrived around 6:30 pm. Got a shared Lyft – very easy right outside the terminal (crazy construction around LGA for a while now that has made getting transportation complicated. Ride-sharing services are the easiest to access, which I’m sure delights the taxi drivers no end). Shared with a woman from Canada who was staying around Central Park, but luckily, our driver decided it was be best to drop us off first. In hotel, checked in by 7:30.

Met son, went to L’Express for dinner.

Then to Greenwich Village, hoping to get into a jazz club.Mezzrow proved to be just the ticket.

Monday:

An hour of piano practice at a room in the National Opera Center, near our hotel.

Whitney Museum w/Ann Engelhart.

wp-1582035054836.jpgPoked around Chelsea and Gansenvoort Markets. Latter didn’t have anything that grabbed us, former was too crazy busy. Ended up at Balaboosta for lunch.

Took a bus up to Hudson Yards, saw the Vessel – no one had a driving desire to walk up, so we didn’t. Checked out the Spanish version of Eataly that’s there.

Back to hotel for a bit, then met oldest, first for a drink at Dante, then dinner at Bar Pitti with our good friend Gabriel Byrne.

Went our separate ways, the two of us then made our way up to Times Square for a bit, then back down.

Tuesday

Metropolitan Museum of Art via subway up to the west side of the park – that NHM stop I mentioned above – and a sort of chilly but still pleasant walk across the park to the Met.

On the bus down to Koreatown. A quick bite of fried chicken here. Then the underwhelming Sony Square space. Then subway down to Flight of the Conchords and (by bus – this one wasn’t bad)  John Wick locations (in Chinatown and the Financial District, respectively.)

Back up to hotel, then over to Washington Square/NYU area for Catholic Artists’ talk.

Subway up to Penn Station, found a DSW for some better walking shoes for kid, then subway down to Katz’s Deli (by this time it’s 10 or so) for a very late dinner, then back.

Wednesday:

Morning: UN Tour

Bus over to Bryant Park area. Ice skating was considered, then declined. Stop at the Steinway Showroom for a few minutes in their “Experience Room.”

Subway down to Greenwich Village, for a huge hero from Faicco’s Italian Specialities. 

Decided to head back up to the Met – kid had wanted to see the Egyptian exhibits.

Back down, met oldest for pre-show food at an Italian place near our hotel.

Hadestown.

Thursday

Subway down to the Lower East Side.

Walk through Essex Market, stop to taste at the Pickle Guys.

The Museum at Eldridge Street – guided tour, learning about the history of Jewish immigration to the area.

Two food stops: Nom Wah Tea Parlor (dumplings) and 88 Lan Zhou Homemade Noodles– more dumplings and, of course, noodles.

Then to Old Saint Patrick’s, where we had the opportunity to learn about their historic organ – I had contacted the Friends of the Erben Organ group, and arranged the tour.  I’ll write more about this later, but it was a great experience to be able to see the workings of this instrument and for my son to be given a chance to play it.

Consider given support to the group that’s dedicated to restoring and preserving this important instrument!

Time for a little rest, then to meet oldest at Casa Mono, then to MSG for Billy Joel.

Friday

Time to pack up and move out – although our flight wasn’t until very late, so we still had the full day (not accidental, of course.)

Pack, check out.

Subway up to a luggage storage facility on 46th – the closest I could figure out to where we’d be going and leaving from. It was fine. It would have been more fine if it hadn’t been 20 degrees, but we lived.

Then to MOMA for their opening at 10:30. 90 minutes there, which was just about enough – we could indeed have spent longer, but we saw the core of the collection, and not in a rushed way. It’s so well-organized, that you can move very smoothly and get an excellent overview of the period (1880’s-1950’s were our main interest) in a straightforward way. We knew if we needed more later in the afternoon, we could get it in, and probably would have except for the cold. Four blocks in frigid air is a lot different than four blocks in the balmy spring.

The reason for the restriction was that I’d booked the NBC Studio Tour for 12:20. By the time I got around to it, it was the earliest available time (meaning, if I’d been able to, I would have booked it as the first activity of the day, giving more leisure for the museum…).

It was fine. Well-run, no dawdling, which I appreciate. Stupid fake talk-show making video at the end which I certainly could have done without.  Saw Tyler Perry. Well, let’s just say, that he walked by us. There was a group of men who were walking down a hall, all with an air of importance, and my focus was on the short elderly white guy in the middle of the line. As quickly as he passed, I was sort of halfway convinced it was Bloomberg, but it also didn’t make sense that it would be, for a number of different reasons (Media competitor; he should be in Nevada or SC…etc), but there was a buzz nonetheless that *someone* had been in that group of guys, and turns out it was Tyler Perry (confirmed by the tour guide and then by Someone I Know who knows someone who works in Perry’s company and he confirmed that yes, Perry was at NBC that day.)

Son was fighting a cold, and really didn’t want to walk back to MOMA (which would take us further from our bags), so we grabbed a quick lunch in Rockefeller Center, then popped into St. Patrick’s, got the bags, then pushed through to the subway station at Bryant Park, got on the 7 out to Queens.

Ann Engelhart met us at the Mets/Willets Point station with her car, then we drove to the Queens Museum, which had a lovely, informative temporary exhibit on Tiffany (the studio was in Queens) and then the crown jewel of the collection – the Panorama of New York City built for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Totally, absolutely worth it, especially if you can visit with a life-long New Yorker, as we did, who can point out her family’s various homes and give all sorts of great historic detail!

A really great and fitting end to the trip.

She then drove us to a great Greek restaurant – Agnanti– and then it was time to head to the airport!

 

 

 

 

 

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Well, we’re back!

As per usual, I’m going to collect my thoughts in this space and do a bit more systematic collection of what and where and a bit of why. Go to the end of the post and to this tag for the posts and this page for posts on many (not all) of our bigger trips over the past few years.

Just a reminder, first, of the why:

My youngest son has had a deep interest in Mayan archaeology for years, inspiring three and a half trips so far.

The first, to the Yucatan in 2014, the second to Guatemala in 2017, the third, this one to Honduras, and the half? Our Holy Week trip to Mexico City and Puebla in 2018. I say “half” because only half – maybe even less – of that trip was attributable to his interest (which would take us here – not Mayan, of course, but general ancient Mesoamerican will do) – the rest of it was about my wanting to spend Holy Week (their spring break that year – they were both in school) somewhere where they did Semana Santa right. And so Honduras.

He’d been talking up Copan for a while, as a major site still on his list (and one that I would be wiling to take him to, unlike, say El Mirador – for that four day trek into the jungle or whatever it is, you’re on your own, sir). The other purpose of this trip was to experience some intensive Spanish instruction.

My first thought was Antigua, Guatemala, with Copan tacked on at the end. Antigua has been on my radar for a while – I wanted to go there during Holy Week in 2017, but for some reason I changed my mind and off we went to Mexico City and Puebla (which was great).

The more I thought about Antiuga as a focus for this trip, though, the less sense that made. Spanish lessons would take up at least a half of each day, and Antigua, while it is an interesting place, didn’t, I think had enough half-day activities that would really interest him to fill the rest of those “school” days – the major activities that would interest him (volcanoes, the lake) would take at least a day.

After doing some research, I saw several people in online discussions mention Copan Ruinas itself as a good place to learn Spanish. The more I looked into it, the more attractive it was – it seemed as if there was a lot to do during those half days, and he was interested in the archaeological features anyway (which ended up taking up one full day and two half days). And then my son pointed out the Celaque National Park in Gracias would be an interesting place to see. So there you go – the major focus of week one, with the added few days at the end.

Where to stay?

I often do apartments and rental homes when traveling, but honestly, now with only the two of us most of the time, the need for space isn’t so pressing. In addition, in this situation, since I wouldn’t be renting a car and wasn’t really sure how I’d be getting around or even the details of what we’d be doing outside of the Copan ruins and Spanish school – I thought a small hotel or B & B would be a better idea than an independent apartment. I could, I thought, use the help in planning and coordinating that a B & B owner could provide.

November 9-17

In Copan, I settled on the Casa de Cafe – a fantastic choice, if I do say so myself. I’m very glad that we spent a week in this almost idyllic spot. I would say it’s on the “Outskirts” of Copan, but when a town is about ten by twenty blocks…are you really on the “outskirts” if you are four blocks from the center? Nah.

Owners Howard (American) and his Honduran wife Angela, also own some rental properties and a boutique hotel in Copan. They’ve created beautiful, peaceful spaces in this busy little town.

This was our room, inside and out.

Breakfast was served every morning – your choice of drink, of course, fruit, freshly squeezed juice, and then either the offering of the day (omelet, traditional Honduran breakfast, pancakes and so on) or simply scrambled eggs and toast – or nothing! Along with housemade hot sauces and marmelade (pineapple). The cafe also functions as a stand-alone restaurant. There were other guests – but only a couple of days in which the place felt full. Most of the guests, it seemed, were French – someone I met staying in another hotel confirmed that yes, her hotel was bursting with French tour groups as well. These tours usually begin flying into Belize City or Guatemala City, take in Tikal, various natural sites in eastern Guatemala, perhaps include Antigua, then swing down to Copan Ruinas and then back up to Quirigua …or perhaps it’s the reverse order. Let’s just say that the French are keen on seeing these Mayan sites – are you?

The level of service here (as well as at the place we stayed at in Gracias) was superb. Frequent offers of coffee or tea, prompt and thorough room cleaning, and great assistance in planning activities and transportation. If you’re even faintly considering a trip to Copan Ruinas – the Casa de Cafe is really a great place to stay (they do have family rooms as well.) Then it was off to Gracias.

 

November 17-21

The place we stayed in Gracias had a similar vibe to the Casa de Cafe – clean, simple rooms in a lush garden setting. Owned by a Dutch woman assisted by an excellent mostly local staff, the Hotel Guancascos sits on the hill upon which the Fuerte de San Cristobal stands sort -of-tall. Gracias itself is bigger than Copan and as a busier, lest tourist-centered vibe, as well as being a little more prosperous, it seems. The Guancascos seems to be a slightly bigger place that the Casa de Cafe, but that might be because it’s laid out differently. The restaurant, though, is definitely bigger and more clearly established as a stand-alone – and in a lovely setting, on a large porch/patio overlooking the city. A great place to eat breakfast (provided with the room) as well as just park yourself in the afternoon when you have to really want to do your Spanish or in the evening when you need some Me Time.

The rooms were, as they’d been in Copan, immaculate, and kept so every day. Guancascos is working very hard and consciously at being eco-friendly, so water is solar heated, and there are other environmentally friendly features. Both hotels feature purified water whenever you need it – at the Cafe de Copan, when you walk by the kitchen and there’s someone in there, I’d just ask them to fill the carafe – and at Guancascos , purified water jugs are provided through the hotel. My impression is that drinking bottled water is pretty standard for everyone, not just foreigners, in Honduras.

As was the case the Casa de Cafe, Fromie, the owner and her managing partner were unfailingly helpful in helping me get things set up – in correspondence they gave me feedback on actually getting to Gracias from Copan (more on that tomorrow), on getting from Gracias to the airport on the 21st, and then in setting up ways for us to get to activities – Fromie’s son drove us to the zipline and thermal baths, they set up a guide for us for the Death March up the mountain in Celaque National Park, and they arranged that driver for the airport journey.

Not a lot of folks were staying there when we were, although they were expecting a big tour group of hikers this weekend. I spoke to a couple of American medical missionaries staying there one night, and it seems that this is a important clientele – as it is, I assume in much of Honduras. So there you have it!

Sometimes apartments make sense – when you need the space, when hotels are stupidly expensive for what you get, when people are going to need to eat food that needs to be prepared by you at times frowned upon by the local restaurant culture, and when you just want to live in a neighborhood, with the locals (although AirBnB has kind of, in intending to meet that desire, ruined the possibility in many instances), and are just fine with minimal interaction with other human beings like desk clerks and housekeepers – but then there are other times when you do want that interaction – and even need it. I personally have soured on AirBnB in the last year, not only because of their Woke Politics, but also because of the many questions and concerns raised about their business practices, lack of renter support and impact on neighborhoods. We have no huge travel plans for the near future aside from a couple of trips to Charleston over the various upcoming holidays and one to NYC in February, but if I do go the apartment route again, I’ll be trying to do so outside AirBnB – I did it before their rise, and I’ll do it again! But really, as I mentioned before, with just the two of us doing the bulk of the traveling now, a place like this is just fine

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All the Honduras posts so far:

Sunday 11/10: Mass and a wedding. Touring the Copan ruins with archaeologist David Sedat

Monday 11/11: Spanish school and Macaw Mountain

Tuesday 11/12: Return visit to the ruins

Wednesday 11/13: Las Sepulturas and El Rastrojon ruins near Copan

Thursday 11/14: Hacienda San Lucas and Los Sapos

Friday 11/15-Saturday 11/16: Last day of Spanish school, a day-long coffee-farm tour on horseback; Luna Jaguar hot springs.

Sunday 11/17: Traveling from Copan to Gracias, Honduras. Mass. Settling in. 

Monday 11/18: Ziplining the canopy and more hot springs

Tuesday 11/19: Hiking the El Gallo trail in Celaque National Park

Wednesday 11/20: Fuerte el Cristobal; relaxing, preparing to return

 

 

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Settled in our new place…

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(If you followed me on Instagram, you would have heard those church bells ringing the Angelus…)

We had a leisurely sleep-in – no Spanish class to go to! – and then did some shopping in town, including at the amazing, labyrinthine indoor market – I won’t pretend it was “charming” in a way that a tourist-oriented market would be, but it was certainly an experience – stalls selling everything under the sun from shoes to rope to food jammed together – you think you’re done, and well,there’s another corner with another wall stuffed with purses or bags of spices…

El Merced is a gorgeous colonial-era church which, it seems, like most churches around here, is not open except during Masses. This is too bad (but I’m sure they have their reasons – which are probably, I’m guessing about crime, vandalism and the value of 350-year old carvings.)

I got a shot of the exterior from the locked gate and wondered why the door was open. We went across the street for a bit, and while we were there, workmen came out of the church bearing some chunks of wood,unlocked the gate, continued out, and left the gate unlocked. That was our chance! I sped up to the church, peaked in, told M to watch to make sure we didn’t get locked in the property, took photos, saw a young man standing at another door that led to a garden, asked him, “Aqui, okay?” He shook his head. “No okay?” He nodded. I had M as him when the church was open. “Domingo.” Okay, then – well, at least I got some photos…

 

Another stop was at the park, where M had a long conversation with Frankie, who approached us as we sat on the park bench, playing with a golf ball. I don’t know why he wanted to talk – sometimes children approach us, seeing that we are not Honduran, IMG_20191118_103232.jpgwanting to speak English. He didn’t, and I kept waiting, I admit, for a request for money..but it never came, and we passed him later in town, him striding jauntily down the street on his own, waving to us cheerily as he passed. So I supposed he was just friendly? For he was – and clearly very smart. M got most of what he said – and when he had trouble, Frankie made a great show of being in despair – shaking his head, and holding it in his hands. What we understood was that he liked Star Wars, Legos, Groot, snakes and Jackie Chan. The only English he spoke was when telling us how many Lego sets he had at home – “One, two, three….” all the way up to ten.

More Spanish practice came here – a shop featuring homemade preserves and sweets. There was lots to sample of the salsa, preserves, and pickled everything from yucca to some sort of egg to various chilis and beyond. The lady running it was very kind and took several minutes to talk with M.

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No lunch – we had a big, late breakfast – and then it was off to more hot springs, this one featuring a zipline over a river. The springs were not nearly as attractive as the Luna Jaguar springs back in Copan, even more so because the major pool was closed for repairs. Ah, well – those who ziplined enjoyed it!

 

Back here, rest, and a dinner at a place that was fine – run by several women with a couple of children zipping about – but we were confused by the massive bed of fried plaintains under the meat. We couldn’t imagine anyone eating all of that…

Tomorrow: the mountain. Yikes.

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….$4 for the both of us.

(Not counting the extras – hot chocolate and cheesecake)

So…

Morning, school as per usual.  He seems to be making progress, and what he’s doing is certainly equivalent to a couple of months of American high school Spanish II. So…I just put it all in the “I could be paying this in tuition” column.

After class, we refreshed, then went to Buena Baleada – a fast-food place (w/the appearance of a chain, but I don’t know if it is or not) – centered on the typical Honduran food called, well – a Baleada – a flour tortilla spread with beans, with the addition of your choice of meat, cheese, and a sauce or two. Served with pickled carrots. $1/each plate, plenty for lunch.

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We then found a mototaxi driver to take us out to Las Sepulturas, return in 90 minutes, and then take us a bit further out to another ruins site – El Rastrojón –wait for us while we looked around (it’s small) and then take us back (cost, $15 USD for his time and driving)

On Las Sepulturas:

The site has a very long history of occupation, including a house dating from the Early Preclassical period. In the Middle Preclassical period, great platforms of cobblestone were constructed and several elaborate burials were made. By the year 800AD, the complex consisted of about 50 buildings arranged around 7 large squares.

At this time, the most important building was the Bacabs’ Palace, the residence of a powerful nobleman in the time of Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat. The exterior of the building has high quality sculpted decorations and a stone bench with carved glyphs inside. One part of the complex formed a sub-district, or neighborhood, occupied by inhabitants who were not Mayans, but natives of central Honduras, involved in the commercial network that brought goods from that region.

On El Rastrojon:

In Rastrojón, the ancient Mayas built two impressive architectural groups of residences. One of them has been under continuous investigation since its discovery. It has buildings with rooms built with stone blocks. Part of the decorations was stuccoed benches with finely carved exteriors as if the inhabitants of the site had belonged to members of the Copan nobility.

Research reveals that the Mayan complex presents architectural collapses never before seen throughout the Copan valley. This is because El Rastrojón was built on the slopes of the hill with unstable terrain and geological faults. Researchers believe that the Maya knew of the danger present to their buildings, however, the religious significance of the place, its altitude, and the water springs that it possessed perhaps motivated them to build there regardless.

Although most architectural monuments of the Rastrojón are destroyed, the site is unique and important because of its excellent location and the vast array of archaeological material to be found. Buildings, sculptures, mosaics, spears, arrowheads and an impressive temple are believed to have been built in honor of the twelfth Mayan ruler “Smoke Jaguar”, the main propeller of the development of the Mayan state.

The location of the site in a strategic place in the Copan valley, together with archaeological material (spearheads and arrows) and sculptural themes, suggests that Rastrojón was a place designed for the defense of the city during the time of the greatest political conflicts for the kingdom of Copan and to honor the memory of one of the most important rulers in the dynastic history of the city.

There was a nice nature trail that takes you around the first site – loads of birds, a toad and an agouti were spotted. (There are no monkeys in this part of Honduras, in case you are wondering – there were when Stephens came in the mid 19th century, but it’s too populous now). It was good to get a sense of how this residential group was situated in relation to the main ruins, and to see the Scribe’s House, in particular, but the main palace was mostly under tarp cover and was being actively excavated and restored – which was interesting to see happening – the digging, the sifting, the cataloguing. Also visible were (I understand from reading around) benches/surfaces with original plaster still intact.

El Rastrojon was a quick trip – the site is on a hill right next to the property of a Clarion hotel, situated up a road and behind a gate – I’m glad we didn’t stay there, so far from town!

As the excerpt above indicates, El Rastrojon is important because of its location and theorized role in relation to the main site – for current visitors, it’s fascinating to see the building, split in parts, half slid down the hill, as well as the image (on the right) of the leader emerging from the mouth of the puma.

Mototaxi driver dropped us back off at the square, where we found the Municipal Building, which is now housing an exhibit of photographic prints (in a space shared, as you can see, with Christmas Decor Central)  from the late 19th century Harvard’s Peobody Museum-funded excavations. You can read about these photographs and see the images here. 

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One of the largest and most valuable collections in the Peabody archives contains more than 10,000 19th-century glass plate negatives. The earliest images in this unique collection were taken at Copan, Honduras, and are part of this exhibition, “Fragile Memories.”

The Copan glass plate negatives are “dry plate,” a process introduced in the 1870s of coating glass plates with a light-sensitive gelatin. As long as the fragile plate itself was not broken, the medium was hardy—relatively resistant to temperature and humidity fluctuations. Indeed, for more than 115 years the Copan negatives have endured, surviving the tropical climate of Central America, where they were shot, as well as transportation to and storage in the United States.

The digitization of the Peabody Museum’s glass plate negatives, which took two years, has opened a new chapter in the investigation of Copan by revealing new archaeological details and information…

….The United States’ fascination with Latin America’s cultural heritage in the late 19th century grew simultaneously with its economic and political interests in the area. By the time Peabody Museum Director Frederick Putnam first dispatched an expedition to Copan in 1891, scholars and the public alike were intrigued by ancient Maya writing, sculpture, and architecture.

The young expedition explorers were barely prepared for the tropical environment and cultural differences they were to encounter. Their initial enthusiasm often dashed by illness and even death, it is remarkable that they returned with anything at all.

The 600 glass plate negatives, paper molds, stone sculptures, ceramics, maps, and notes they carried back established the Peabody Museum and Harvard University as forerunners in Maya and Central American archaeology and ethnology.

You can go to the site and see the images – very instructive and even startling to see the “before” of the ruins and compare them to the “after” of the present and consider the process for pulling these structures together in a way faithful to their original construction…

You might be particularly interested in this shot of the community gathered with the visiting priest for the celebration of the feast of San Jose. 

It was about four by that time, so back for about an hour rest, then catch a mototaxi up to The Tea and Chocolate Place – the family business of our Sunday ruins guide, retired archaeologist David Sedat. You can read about it here.

In 2003, David Sedat and his family started the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station (or 2012 Project, named so because the year 2012 marked the next cycle of the ancient Maya calendar) to regenerate the steepest, most eroded landscape in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and helping mitigate poverty and nutritional issues in the area. This experiment was founded on 20 acres of very steep, badly eroded and ruined farmland overlooking the Mayan Ruins of Copan, Honduras. Here, the utilization of simple soil-conservation techniques (no burning, preservation of native species of plants, living hedgerows, and micro-terraces) along with the planting of many different kinds of trees and shrubs has demonstrated the viability of regenerating the landscape with useful permanent crops.

The first self-sustaining endeavor to come from the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station was Noni Maya Copán, a family business (also established in 2003) that began to process and market natural, sustainably grown products (the Plumed Pyramid Products) from both new and old crops found suited to the area, among them the Noni tree (Morinda citrifolia).

Today, from the vantage point of the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station overlooking the Ruins of Copán, visitors can see first-hand the effects of both ancient and modern populations in shaping the landscape.

On the outskirts of Copán where we live, we have built what it is now our Visitor Center (The Tea & Chocolate Place), a peaceful, garden-like setting where you can enjoy a healthful tea or chocolate beverage (along with a traditional local snack) while watching the sun go down. The Tea & Chocolate Place is not a traditional coffee shop nor restaurant but a state-of-the art showcase for natural herbal products grown at the nearby Copán 2012 Experimental Botanical Research Station.

 

Enjoyed hot chocolate and chocolate cheesecake, bought some items, communed with a friend, and then walked back, stashed the purchases, and went to the street place we ate at the previous evening, this time just to share (not with the dog, sorry)  three tacos al pastor – $2 for the plate. Delicious and just enough.

Today – after class, probably (I hope) some hiking in an area up on one of the hills above the town….

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming to you from this morning’s office:

Sorry, not a coffee drinker, and a helpful young man in the convenience store dug behind all the regular bottles to find me a couple of Sabor Ligero – Coca-Cola Light, which is what you find outside the US instead of Diet Coke. You can also find Coke Zero, but I prefer the non-sweetness of this – which is not as perversely satisfying as the metallic mouth feel of Diet Coke, but hey. #GratitudeNovember or whatever.

Today’s the second day of Spanish school. I stayed at the school all morning yesterday, but there’s no need – so here I am back at our B & B, watching French tourists come and go.

All right – let’s do Monday:

Refresher: Kid #5, about to turn 15 next week has a long-standing interest in MesoAmerican civilizations, especially the Maya. It inspired past trips to the Yucatan and Guatemala. He is homeschooled, studied Spanish in 8th grade in school, has been doing his best on his own at home (mostly via this Great Courses and other random videos and reading, at the moment, El Hobbit.) But of course he needs more, and it seemed to be a good idea to combine the two interests – see a set of ruins he’s long wanted to visit and take a week of intensive Spanish study.

I had originally looked into Antigua, Guatemala, simply because I wanted to go there, but after thinking about it and considering options, it seemed as if the setting of Copan would give us more opportunities for after-school activities in the afternoons. There is a IMG_20191111_084415.jpglot to do around Antigua (not so much archaeological sites, but natural and cultural), but most of them seem to call for more than an afternoon. So, I was thinking, “We can do a week in Antigua, and then go to Copan”…I thought…why not just go to Copan for the week? As it turns out, there are a couple of well-regarded and reviewed Spanish language schools here, and so far – on day 2 – it seems to be working out well.

Monday morning, we rose, ate the typically well-prepared breakfast here at the B & B, then walked the six blocks or so to the school, located off the central square. It’s on the rooftop of a building housing a restaurant, a dental practice and some other businesses. He was introduced to a teacher, took a placement test, and then spent the next few hours learning how much he had to learn!

Humbling…

We then dropped our stuff off at the B & B, and ate lunch at a place recommended to us by our Copan guide – Cafe San Rafael – a lovely space centered on locally-made cheeses, as well as coffees (of course). It was more expensive than the typical local fare (full meal, for example, the previous night, for  both of us for 135 Lempira – about $5.50 USD), but worth it.

Then we took a mototaxi – what you’d know, more generally, as a “tuk-tuk” – they don’t Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 10.36.09 AMcall them that here – the prevalent mode of transportation in these parts – up  about 2 km to Macaw Mountain, a nature reserve originally started for birds that had served their usefulness to their owners as pets. You can read about it here. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of town – we’d seen the flock of Macaws that fly freely at the ruins (and will see them again today) – and these guys are mostly in cages because they are being bred and trained to fly (those hatched in captivity), but still, it was a pleasant afternoon.

Back to town in a mototaxi, a rest, then out to get tickets for a Saturday excursion (we were originally going to leave Saturday, but decided this day-long excursion would be worth it), then dinner here – it was good – I had chicken, son had beef, with typical accompaniments. Monday Night Football en espanol on television, a cat wandering about. I prefer the more street-food stuff – the dishes cooked under tents in nooks and crannies  throughout town – and we have and will have plenty of that – but it’s nice to have a break from that to eat an actual enclosed space, as well!

Then a stroll into the center where we saw the pernicious influence of the USA in…Christmas decorations! On November 11! Ah, well…then to this small archaeological museum to fill out our Copan knowledge. Across the way, the church doors were open, so we went over to peek in and saw a man speaking to a fairly large group of folks – some sort of educational or mission activity I suppose. Children were racing around outside and since we obviously do not look native to these parts, were shouting, “Hello!” to us – one little boy (and I mean little – he was probably no more than 6 or 7) – was especially determined, so we took a few minutes for him to practice his English  – of which he was very proud – with us –  he could count to twelve, he knew all the greetings, and could tell me, when I asked him – gato? CAT! perro? DOG!

Back to the room…homework time for one of us, and me, reading John Lloyd Stephens on Copan. I have at home, for some reason, just the second volume of his great work – I think I got it when we first started on this path, and it’s the second volume that deals with the Yucatan. What I hadn’t realized was that Copan was actually the first ruins he encountered, the first place that revealed to him that maybe everything we thought we knew about this part of the world is wrong….It’s absolutely fascinating reading. 

Off-topic – Older Son is working his way through Billy Wilder’s oeuvre. Check it out here. 

Later!

(Don’t forget Instagram!) 

 

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Post on Sunday Mass is here – short version – there was a wedding!

After a late breakfast at the B & B, we began a slow walk out to the Copan Ruins. We could have taken a mototaxi (tuk-tuk), but it was a bit more than a mile, we’d just eaten a substantial breakfast, so why not walk?

There’s a walking path by the road that leads out there, and it was pleasant. Weather report: It’s very mild here. 70’s, a little humid. It rained last night for a while. I get a sense that the mountains shield this valley from any intense level of rain – which is good and bad, I guess.

We arrived at the site, bought our tickets, and waited for our guide. You don’t have to have a guide, of course, and my son knows a lot  – but I had no doubt that a knowledgeable guide would add to the experience and my son’s understanding (the goal), so I asked our hotel proprietor for the name of a guide who could offer information a level above what your normal guide would, addressing those with out the deep  background my son has. And he delivered – our guide for the afternoon was archaeologist David Sedat.

If you want to read more about Copan and why it’s important, go here. 

Most North Americans have little understanding of the Maya, ancient or modern, and tend to assume that the ancient Mayan civilization disappeared because of European conquerers. But that’s not the case – all of those temples and pyramids had been overgrown for hundreds of years by the time the Spanish arrived. And why? What happened? There’s a mystery about that, and that question, as well as any continued memory of the ancient civilization among the Maya, is what interests me.

But my son is, of course, primarily interested in that civilization itself, so that’s why we’ve been to the sites in the Yucatan, as well as many in Guatemala.

Some shots from the tour, and then last night’s dinner – tacos pastor and something else – just a different arrangement of tortillas, meat and in this case, cheese.

The photo of the large colored temple is from the museum – it’s a reproduction of a temple found within another larger structure on the site – called Rosalila – you can read more about it here. 

This was a good introduction to the site, but we’ll be returning here, to the museum, as well as trying to get to some other smaller sites in the area.

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Well, hello from Honduras!
I would say, “Hola,” except this meme, pointedly and regularly shared with me before, during and after our trip to Spain earlier this year, stills weighs heavily:

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So, no Spanish will be attempted.

Expect to see extensive blogging this week. I have four hours every morning, while this is happening:

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I’m hanging out this morning, but if it’s okay with everyone, during the rest of the week, I might make my way back to the B & B or wander. There’s not much to see, though, and we have every afternoon to do more wandering, so I’m thinking my best use of time will be to work either here or there, including sharing with you in this space.

After a typically rocky beginning to the trip, things have smoothed out nicely. When I say “typically” rocky, I don’t mean typically for me, I mean typically for leaving from the Birmingham airport. With all due respect, I think I’ve had more absurd delays from that airport than not. Delays that have necessitated totally scrapping a scheduled departure and leaving the next morning instead. Delays that have led to missing a connecting flight to Japan by maybe ten minutes, necessitating an overnight stay in Dallas and a lost day in Japan.

Things like that.

Luckily, we didn’t have a connecting flight to catch and even more fortunately this time, the airline – in the person of the pilot, specifically, was very good about keeping us informed – in complete violation of what I have long been under the impression was was Airline Rule #1: Obfuscate, deflect, and when that fails, just lie. No, this fellow, clearly wanting to get to Houston as badly as the rest of us, kept us as informed as possible on this very bizarre problem: the geniuses on duty couldn’t move the jetbridge. There was a problem, and evidently, for a solid hour, there was no one associate with the BHM airport staff that could be reached to give advice. The updates we got were things like: “Well, they’re going to gather every spare employee in the airport and try to push it.” That didn’t work. “Now they’re going to try the airplane tug.” Finally the pilot said, basically, “Screw it. We’re going to back out verrrrry slowly and if we break something, well, we break something.”
Nothing broke! We got to Houston about an hour late, and traveling mercies in restrospect on those rushing to make connections, but our only task was grabbing a hotel shuttle and getting some sleep.
Saturday morning:
Up early, hotel breakfast, then shuttle back to the airport for the a bit-less-than three hour flight to San Pedro Sula. Passengers were probably about half Honduran, half..not. I’m assuming most of those who weren’t, were were either going to Roatan to fish and/or dive or on mission trips. You could kind of tell the difference between the groups – I’m assuming the bros with the sunglasses latched on the back of their head  and the t-shirts barely covering their guts were in the former category, but hey, these days, who knows! And who am I to judge?

Immigration was bizarrely lengthy because of a strange situation. There were about thirty quite elderly people – who looked to be Honduran – all in wheelchairs, in the “special cases” line. Not long after we arrived, it seems as if an executive decision was made to prioritize these people – no argument from me there – and so the rest of us ended up waiting probably thirty minutes later than we would have otherwise. I really, really wondered what these group of wheel-chair bound elderly had been up to – they were all in Delta chairs (who knew they had so many) but I didn’t catch their flight origin. My main theories: They were native Hondurans living in the US who were being brought home for a visit in a group. They were Hondurans who were given the chance to go up to visit relations in the US in a group. Or three – they had been on a pilgrimage somewhere.
Anyway, we finally got through – without demands for papers from this child’s father allowing his travel – which happened to us in Belize and will explain to anyone who searches my purse and wonders why I am carrying a death certificate and a birth certificate with me on this trip…
…and met our driver, arranged by our hotel here in Copan.
Yes, there were other choices. We could have taken a bus. We could have rented a car. Let’s just say, I’m glad I did neither. We will probably end up on a bus for some parts of this trip, but for my initial entrance into the country, not knowing what the heck I’m doing and even being – I realized with a start on the flight over – totally clueless on the currency – I went for the driver and private car.
As I said – good choice. By car, it was a solid four-hour drive, which means, on a bus, it would have been longer, and, to boot, we would have had to leave the airport and go into the city to even catch the bus. We probably wouldn’t have arrived until 8 or so.
And driving? No thanks.

Let’s put it this way – if I were in the country for even just a week, being driven around, gaining understanding of the “rules” of the road, I could do it at that point. Avoid the (many) potholes, slow waaaay down for the (many) speed bumps, don’t freak out about the armed police stops (three, I think on the journey), and watch out for the people, dogs and chickens right on the edge of the road.
But again – right off a plane, new to the country? Probably jumping in a car and driving four hours would not be the best idea.
We arrived at our lovely B & B, freshened up, and headed out for food.
Copan Ruinas is a small town, central square, much poverty, but also set up for tourists who come mostly to visit the Mayan ruins. Lots of restaurants, a smattering of English spoken.

Our first food stop was in a courtyard where three women were set up – a food court, really. We just picked one and had a simple, lovely serving of pinchos.
That did not satisfy the young man who hadn’t eaten since the hotel breakfast, so we wandered out to find more. We settled for a touch more “formal” sit-down restaurant that’s centered on grilled meat. Not wanting a full meal, we just went for an appetizer of beans, cheese and chorizo kept warm over a cunning little charcoal brazier. At one point, seven heavily armed law/military guys came and sat at the table behind us – I mean, with their handguns on their hips and their rifles across their chests, even as they ate…I mean, yeah, you’re not going to hang your big gun (whatever they were) on the back of your chair, sure. I wasn’t going to stand up and get a photo (although they did gather and take a selfie at the table), but you can see one fellow behind my son in one of the photos.
Does a heavily armed culture make you feel more or less safe? Hard to say…
Anyway, we wandered, went into a few shops, and then back to sleep…

 

Blog post on Sunday Mass is already published here. 

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