Thursday, December 24, 2009


We crossed the border into Guatemala and got busy sitting on a motionless bus, waiting for a demonstration of underpaid teachers to finish blocking the road. On the bus we met the friendly Henry and by the time we had reached his stop had decided to take a flier and check out his hotel in Hawaii. For unclear reasons this coastal community near Montericco is named after the 50th state, possibly because of its black sand and palm trees. It also hosts sea turtle nesting grounds, and, since selling turtle eggs is legal in Guatemala, a small but determined number of activists working to keep the population from collapsing. We took a walk down the beach to a local hatchery with Nidia, our host's neice. Alice, the chief volunteer at the center is teaching Nidia to gather data and release the baby turtles and we fortunately had a fresh batch to gather, measure, and send out to sea. In 7 years the very few female survivors will return to the same beach to lay their own eggs.

At Henry's hotel there is a captive spider monkey named Francisco. A spider monkey's limbs are long and he is supposed to use them swinging through the forest canopy. He is also a social creature and meant to be living in a spider monkey troop. Being tied by the neck at the end of a several feet of rope inhibits these natural tendencies and Francisco is showing the strain. Just after taking the photo below Francisco got the wind up and latched onto my calf as tightly as he could. If he was trying to bite me his effort was stymied by his also having had his teeth removed. Releasing one of his powerful hands he entangled it in my hair and started hauling away. When Mike tried to dissuade him he got a wretched scratch on the arm. I am still not sure how I got out of Francisco's clutches. I do know that this is the fourth spider monkey we have seen who is being driven mad by captivity and I wonder if I have passively aligned myself with the voyeurs Delacroix painted in his Tasso in the Madhouse.

From Hawaii we caught a bus to Antigua, a beautiful colonial city set amid volcanoes. It was smoggy, probably due to the huge amounts of plastic burning on its outskirts, but the buildings are lovely. We found a basic but very clean and very cheap hotel (the Posada Ruiz) and stayed a number of nights, wandering the streets and exploring the churches and convents.

From Antigua we decided to head for the mountain town of Quetzaltenango, also called Xela, where we spent a beautiful, cold and fireworks-filled Christmas.