January 30, 2010

San Cristobal de las Casas

Press HERE to see a slideshow
of San Cristobal.

The Cathederal of San Cristobal

IMG_0137: The Cathederal of San Cristobal

Nancy and Alejandra

IMG_0129: Nancy and Alejandra

Beautiful Embroidery

IMG_0148: Beautiful Embroidery

Mayan Shopppers

IMG_0157: Mayan Shopppers

Mayan Woman

IMG_0161: Mayan Woman

Up Calle Guadalupe

IMG_0186: Looking up to the Guadalupe Temple

San Cristobal de las Casas is a wonderful colonial city of 150,000 souls located in the center of the State of Chiapas. Some may remember the rebellion of the Mayan people, known as the Zapatista conflict, that took place here in 1994. Chiapas is in the far southeastern corner of Mexico on the Pacific ocean and borders Guatemala. The town is at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. The effect is to keep the population cooler that surrounding jungles and costal areas. The nights have been in the low 40's and the days have been sunny and in the 70's, which is near perfect weather for a Minnesotan. The buildings are old and the streets are very narrow. Although not as old as Antigua, it has a very similar look and feel. The fame of the Zapatista rebellion put a spotlight on the region, and thus brought many more tourists and a welcome addition to the local economy.

Before leaving Veracruz on Monday, we tried to find some guesthouses online. Outside the US, Hostelz.com is one of the better sites for locating hostels, guesthouses and budget hotels. We select three that sounded good, located them on Google maps and save the webpages - so that we could find them when we got into the town. The capital of Chiapas is Tuxtla Gutiérrez and is 30 miles east and at 1,700 feet. The last 45 minutes of journey was from Tuxtla to San Cristobal was all up hill and and night on a winding mountain road. After a bit of confusion on our arrival we found our way to our first pick, Casa de la Vista, where we found a room in a nice guesthouse. We did not see the best feature of the guesthouse until the next morning. The view of the city is wonderful from the patio of the guesthouse.

Tuesday was not a busy day for us. We wanted to rest a bit after three, long, hard days of driving. We walked the half mile to the center. We looked around a bit, changed some money and headed back to our guesthouse. We just took it easy. Then in the evening the guesthouse tenants gathered to send off Alejandra, who had been a guest here for more than a month. The party for her was fun. We had a fire on the patio, wine and beer to drink and some food to quench the appetite. We had a good time getting to know all the other guests. We had gotten to know Jack Barnes earlier in the day. I mention him and his wife Nancy because they are so much like Betty and me. Nancy just retired and is in San Cristobal to study Spanish for two months. They started serious travel a few years ago and now plan to travel extensively - mostly in Latin America - during the winters. And yes, they come from a place as cold as the Twin Cities - that being the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Wednesday, we saw much of the town. After changing some money, we went went south two blocks to the Arcos del Carmen. At this location is the first, really public library that we have seen in Mexico. It was a regional library and was nicer that we had expected. We hope that over the years, it will get better and better. We circled to the west and stopped at Templo del Calvario and looked inside. Along side of it was the Amber Museum. We just check out their shop. We were not interest enough to see the exhibits. From there it was a short walk to the Museo de las Culturas Populares, which is a folk museum of low interest. We walked back to main plaza the turned north passing by the Cathedral of San Cristobal. We continued on several blocks until we got to walked to the Templo Santa Domingo de Guzman, whose exterior was stunningly beautiful. Outside the church are dozens and dozens of vendor stands selling handicraft from the neighboring villages. Attached to the church was an old convent that had been converted to another museum called Centro Cultural de los Altos. The most interesting exhibit was the museum itself and its wonderful courtyard. None of museums were all that good. We were pretty tired by now. We had walking and looking for hours. We noted that we could stop at one more museum on our way back to the guesthouse. Centro Cultural Na Bolom was a wonderful little museum. Na Bolom means House of the Jaguar. It was founded by and is in the home of Frans and Trudy Bloom. They came to this area almost one-hundred years ago to explore, map and research the region. The best part of the museum we all the old photos of Mayan people during the past ninety years. We returned totally exhausted late in the afternoon to our room to rest and recoup.

Thursday was for a trip to a nearby village. We went to Chamula. At midday the square in front of the church was filled with a market of food and clothing vendors. It was a totally amazing sight. I took some photos, which do not even close to capturing the spirit of the place. We explored the market and the main street, where we found clothing vendors. Betty bought two blouses made in the village. We also wanted to visit the village of Zinacantan, but at the last moment decided not to visit the town. On principle we won't pay to enter a town, which was the demand here. After our trip up into the hills we returned to the city. We stopped at the Mayan Medicine Museum. This was another museum fell flat, despite the recommendation. The best parts of the visit the folksy dioramas and 12-minute video on the Mayan midwife. The video took you through and entire delivery and was extremely interesting.
In the evening we went out to a show, Palenque Rojo. The show was about a Mayan war for Palenque, a fantastic Mayan city of old about one-hundred miles northeast of San Cristobal. The costumes and make up were beyond fantastic. The dance and drumming was marvelous. The only draw back was that we understood none of the dialog. The show's web page has a short video where you can catch a glimpse of the show. Check it out.

Friday did not start out all that great. Gas to head hot water had run out in the night. So there was no shower in the morning and we had to use the microwave to heat water for coffee. Not great loss, just a minor irritation. The day was reserved for people watching and hanging out in the town squares. Once in a while, it is nice to do nothing.

Well, we are winding down in San Cristobal. We did little today. It was a cool sunny morning. We had pazole for lunch. It rained midday. We have seen about all we want to here. And I took my final picture in the City.

We will leave tomorrow morning heading north for two days. Yes, Merida and Cancun are north of here. If it clears up we might stop at Palenque, the site of an ancient Mayan Ruins. In any case, we should be in Merida by Monday night.

Posted by bill at 09:32 PM | Comments (5)

January 26, 2010

The Trek South

This is a short rendition of journey south. There are almost no photos this time. But the next time there will be many.

We we left the cold and freezing northland on Sunday the 10th of January. We drove from early morning until the evening, stopping in Sikeston, MO. We left the next morning. We had been totally surprised by the cold weather in Missouri. Snow still blanketed the the ditches almost to the Arkansas border. We stopped to rest a few minutes in northern Mississippi and despite the warm air we saw a dusting of snow in the shadows of small building. By the days end we were in Ocean Springs and with my father.

Press HERE to see a slideshow
from the Biloxi Bay Bridge.

On the Biloxi Bay Bridge

Vernon and Richard Miller with Bill

Ocean Springs is a nice little town, which we enjoy. But we love visiting my dad. We spent about ten days there. My dad had a few things for me to fix, which I quickly dispatched. I also switched him to the more stable voip service of Vonage. With it he will be able to call his cousins in Sweden at no additional cost. We also helped him upgrade to a new HD-TV and a DVR. By old standards the TV is very large but the cost was less than what his very old set cost new. The LCD technology is just unbelievable. I am glad that my dad is doing so well. While there we did do some long walks. I have promised myself to take off all the weight that I have picked up in the past two years. There is a new long bridge over the Biloxi bay with a beautiful walk way. One day we walked most of the way across and back.

We left early last Friday morning, heading for Corpus Christi, where we couch surfed. It was a long, hard drive. I wanted to stay a couple of days, but not Betty. So we headed south again on Saturday. When we got to Brownsville we stopped to get Mexican car insurance, buy some wine and other things. We were in Mexico by 2:00 PM, but it was after 3:00 before we got our visas and auto registration. Already late in the day, we knew that Ciudad Victoria would be our stopping point for Saturday night. Again on Sunday, we drove all day, arriving in Veracruz at night fall. Yesterday, Monday, was another marathon. We started by taking the free roads, which were incredibly slow. We stopped in every village because the speed bumps, topos, force it. Finally we got on the toll roads. They are fast. The condition of the roadway can be great, but just as often as not they are pocked with rough spots and pot holes. They can be four lanes wide or two lanes wide. They are greatly overpriced, for example the two hundred mile run on Mex 190D cost 168 pesos, more than 12 dollars. Even when there are no tolls on the roads there are tolls on the bridges, even small ones, of 19 pesos ($1.50) each way.
The toll for the 47 kilometers (25 miles) from Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristabal de las Casas was another 56 pesos. But then we were at our destination. It was hard to see much at night, it did look a bit like Antigua, Guatemala. We found our guest house after a bit of searching and settled in for the night.

It was glorious this morning. The view from our guesthouse of the city is wonderful. We will stay here one week. Then move on to Merida. I will post stories and photos of what we find here on the weekend.

The View from Our Balcony in San Cristobal
 IMG_0124: Overview of San Cristobal

Posted by bill at 06:06 PM | Comments (3)

January 05, 2010

So Long 2009 - Hello 2010

Gitta and Jo on Christmas Day

IMG_0021: Coins Are Ready
Opening Gifts
IMG_0041: Christmas Morning
Bill, Steve, Betty and Ellen
IMG_0049: Brothers and Wives
Brian, Gay Lynn and Bill
IMG_0063: Brothers and Sister

Lucy and Her Cake

IMG_0099: Lucy and Her Cake
Eva, Brian and Johanna
IMG_0090: Eva, Brian and Jo
Jo with Guests Tawny and Liz
IMG_0069: Tawny, Johanna and Liz

I hope all of you had very happy holidays!

We had a great Thanksgiving meal in November.

In December cold and snowy weather came. At least three feet of snow fell on our yard since Thanksgiving. It has been as cold as -20 degrees (-30c) at night. One of the worst storms came on Christmas Eve. Many a family gathering had to be canceled, and many relatives missed gatherings on Christmas day.
We also had many family get-togethers, the best being on Christmas. The grandchildren got lots of presents on Christmas morning. The Christmas dinner was super fantastic! We prepared a whole ham, which was the best we have had in years. Yes, it came from Ingebretson's meat market, as always. There were sweet potatoes, and corn and Betty's famous cheese-potatoes. For desert we had pumpkin pies with whip cream. Throughout there were the cookies and fudge and caramel candies that Birgitta and Betty had spent days preparing. The only disappointment was that the weather kept Brian and Gay Lynn and their spouses from coming over in the late afternoon on Christmas Day.

Just after Christmas, my brother Steve and his wife Ellen dropped by for a visit. A few days later, my brother Brian had the family over for a wonderful brunch. We so much enjoyed visiting with everyone and eating wonderful holiday foods.

For us the year ended on the first day of January. We hosted the birthday party for Lucianna, who turned one-year old on December 31st, and for Johanna, who turned two-years old on November 27th. We had a house full of people. Even with all the preparation work, it was a wonderful day.
Two days later Dain and Marleta left for Palo Alto. Their two-week visit was a wonderful holiday present.

Here is the link to our Holidays slide show. We received a number of photos in Christmas cards; the show includes these photos.

2009 in Review

We started 2009 celebrating the birth of Luciana. Then we spent a wonderful four months in Chile and Argentina. The summer was filled with projects small and large. We attended the wedding of Alex and Kat. I went back to the Oshkosh air show. Then there was the Minnesota State Fair. We spent two months traveling out west, visiting friends and relatives. And we ended with a wonderful holiday season.

You can review the year by starting with the first entry of 2009 in this blog.

You can also see what we saw at my Fickr photostream. While running a slide show of an event, click the right side of the screen and you will be able to view the title and description of the photo. Links to slide shows and collections follow:
The collection: 2009 in Chile and Argentina,
a slide show: A Day at the Zoo
a slide show: Summer of 2009,
a slide show: Minnesota Sate Fair 2009,
a slide show: September 2009 ,
a slide show: Driving Out West ,
a slide show: Palo Alto to Oregon
A slide show: Oregon to Minnesota.

A note on politics:
The USA is doing better on the world scene. Our new president continues making progress on a number of fronts. He has also made some serious mistakes.

The best example of both progress and errors is in the area of health care reform. Congress is close to passing a bill that will provide for near universal health care in the USA. The reforms are positive and significant. The error was in not offering enough leadership to start the ball rolling on our greatest need, that being the reduction of health care cost. Americans pay twice the normal rate of European health care plans. A weak yet important step toward reduced costs would be public intervention into the health care system. None of the four options that would reduce costs will be in the final legislation. Those four in their order of effectiveness from weakest to greatest follow: (1) Mandate universal coverage through existing health care insurance companies with mandatory non-profit policies and cost negotiations with drug and health providers; (2) creation an alternative government owned and run insurance program, which all Americans could choose; (3) creation of a single-payer health care system based on our existing Medicare program, which would have the authority to negotiate with drug and health care providers; (4) creation of a government-owned and run healthcare system based on our existing Veterans healthcare benefits, which would have the authority to negotiate with drug companies. Only the first and second were considered. The second was included in the House bill, but it is not likely to appear in the final legislation. What this means is that the healthcare industry will continue to rip-off Americans.
Despite the legislation's weaknesses, it does take many big steps in the right direction.

I will say no more, save to say:

Happy New Year to ALL !

40,000 Christmas Lights Illuminate the Sky
 IMG_0020: 40,000 Lights

Posted by bill at 03:41 PM | Comments (2)