From Highland Park to Antigua

Ξ January 25th, 2008 | → Comments Off | ∇ Beyond Northeast |

This half of the Yorkblvd duo spent 7 nights of my Christmas vacation travelling through Guatemala and Belize. I had originally thought of taking the easier route through Cancun and the Mexican Mayan Riviera for sites like Chichen Itza. My girlfriend however, who was partially raised in Mexico, wanted to travel somewhere new, so we compromised on Guatemala. Now, the lynchpin of my vacation was the Mayan ruins in Tikal. I bought the tickets via Spirit Air, a no-frills carrier throughout much of Latin America and one of the few direct LAX to Guatemala City flights. My better half insisted she wanted to spend at least some of the vacation lounging on the beach. I figured this would be easy: Guatemala exports bananas and coffee; is near Mexico, Belize, and lots of other countries famous for virgin sand; and is closer to the equatorthan Los Angeles. In my mind, these added up to parasols in daiquiris.

I was wrong: Guatemala has notoriously disappointing beaches. Unchecked farming, volcanic sand, and potent currents resulting form vicious shorebreaks create a relatively hostile Pacific coast. Then, what little Caribbean property Guatemala owns is mostly monopolized by the port of Puerto Barrios, which makes most of the water unsafe for swimming. Fortunately, we did our research and decided to include the Belizean peninsula of Placencia into our itinerary.

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Here are my impressions of my travels:

From Guatemala City Airport to Placencia, Belize –

You cannot get here in less than one day from Guatemala City without flying. I thought I could but grossly overestimated Central American transportation infrastructure. The bus and boat rides were hard on our backs.

Livingston, Guatemala might be worth another visit. A Garifuna settlement that can only be accessed by boat from Puerto Barrios, Livingston is populated by the descendents of British slaves who were exiled to several Central American islands after a rebellion. The hub of their culture is Roatan, Honduras. Livingston had a lot of Americans with dreadlocks and a definite ganja culture. Also, I was ripped off on the exchange rate at one of the restaurants. This was only a few hour stopover on our boat ride to Punta Gorda.

 

Livingston

We barely saw Punta Gorda in daylight but what we did see wasn’t impressive. This was partially our fault as we arrived on Boxing Day. Everything was closed except a few Asian owned stores. We ate awful Chinese food and flew out the next morning.

Placencia was the heaven on earth we expected. In my less tolerant years I viewed beach vacations as cowardly and wasteful. I remember arguing with a former (no surprise right?) girlfriend who wanted to visit Ibiza. “There’s so much culture out there.” I would argue. “Why waste such a great travel opportunity on hanging out at the beach?” Well, I was wrong. Placencia was the highlight of the trip. Thick air, heavy with the scent of orchids and hibiscus greeted us to a peninsula of white sand beaches and warm Caribbean water. We snorkeled at Laughingbird Caye, the southern end of a huge offshore reef; walked the narrow sidewalks; but mostly lazed on the beach, reading and drinking in our hammock. The only drawback had to be the food. Belizean cuisine bears a striking resemblance to American soul food: Fried Chicken, red beans, and dirty rice. The local cuisine was pretty bland and every restaurant had a bottle of Marie Sharpe’s habanero hot sauce on the table to give the food some flavor.

 

 

 

A few days later, we were driven to El Remate, Guatemala, on the shores of Lago Petén. We really just used this as a jumping off point for the Mayan ruins at Tikal. The best advice I can give to anyone visiting the ruins is to take the sunrise tour. Though it was a misty morning, we got to hear the fauna of the jungle wake up from the top of a 2,000 year old temple. Then, we toured the rest of the complex (although only something like 10% of it has been unearthed) before the weather got too hot and hordes of tourists clogged the sites.

 

 

The remainder of the trip was spent in Antigua, a small colonial town near Guatemala City. Unfortunately, my Olympus camera was malfunctioning so I don’t have many pictures. Cobblestone streets and brightly painted walls surrounded by a panoramic vista of volcanoes made it clear why this is the top vacation destination in Guatemala. We took a bike tour, ate, shopped, and chatted with locals and visitors alike. Some of my favorite memories:

Biking around the small towns outside of Antigua and seeing the beautiful floral arrangement set out in one small plaza for their fiesta.

Singing along to Café Tacvba’s “Como te extraño mi amor” at a New Year’s Eve concert in Antigua’s central plaza. The bands were unknown and playing mostly covers, and it basically amounted to a commercial for Pepsi, but it was fun and we were surrounded by young Chapínes from (presumably) the capital.

Making fast friends with a guy at an Irish Bar (they’re everywhere) and finding out hours later that he was a Sergeant in the Army. If you’re not aware, Guatemala’s military doesn’t have the squeakiest human rights record around. He bragged about his uncle’s ability as a sniper and I didn’t have the heart to ask many more questions. I’m pretty sure he was chatting with me mostly as an excuse to hit on my girlfriend anyway.

 

 

Next Central American trip will be either another visit to the beaches of Belize with daytrips to their Mayan sites, or possibly a jaunt to the Honduran ruins of Copan with some beach time at the islands around Roatan. The summer is bringing a trip to Thailand so look for that in June.

 

Mural Reclamation at Piedmont and Fig

Ξ January 18th, 2008 | → Comments Off | ∇ Highland Park |

In the vein of my previous article on graffiti in Northeast Los Angeles, I was curious when I saw a new mural going up on the corner of Piedmont and Figueroa next to the Arroyo Seco Library. Painted by local artist Raul Baltazar, the mural was originally intended to honor those who marched against 1994’s Proposition 187.

Prop 187 Mural

 


Baltazar is also famous, at least in my circle of friends, for the grotesque characters painted on the walls of Tacos La Estrella. Over the past year however, the Prop 187 mural has been increasingly obscured by tagging. I’ve filled out more than a few graffiti removal requests online but retouching a mural probably isn’t something we want the city having DUI offenders do to fulfill community service hours. Based on this picture, it looks as though some changes had been made to the original mural before the most recent group of taggers completely choked the images out:

 

 

Tagged Prop 187 Mural

 

If JET and his buddies read this please feel free to punch yourselves in the groin repeatedly. Why someone would feel painting over a commissioned work of public art is beyond me. As much as I hate the defacement of public and private property, I can marginally understand (and occasionally appreciate) graffiti that finds itself onto impossible surfaces. Covering a work of art that took someone else a significant amount of time and effort is akin to coming into my home, ripping out the closet I just installed, and kicking my dog on the way out.

Naturally, I was curious to see last weekend a man on a ladder painting over the graffiti with what looks to be the beginnings of a new mural. I’m not sure if Baltazar is reclaiming the space or if it’s someone else, but if anyone has any info, I’d love to hear about it.

 

 

New Mural

 

 

Oxy Basketball Keeps Caltech Streak Alive

Ξ January 17th, 2008 | → Comments Off | ∇ 90041 |

Last night, the guys from Yorkblvd.com decided to satisfy our sports fix by heading over to Occidental College to check out the 21st ranked…in division 3…Men’s Basketball program. The only problem was that as they lost to Claremont McKenna over the weekend, they’ve been bounced from the top 25. Despite this demotion to the “Also Receiving Votes” category of the rankings, we were relatively confident that our Tigers would trounce the visiting Caltech Beavers.

For those of you unfamiliar with anything beyond the earthquake readings that come from the California Institute of Technology, Caltech is the place of ‘80s comedies. (Real Genius, starring Val Kilmer, was based on Caltech though it was filmed at Oxy.) The male to female student ratio is about 2.5/1, they boast 31 Nobel Prize winning alumni, and are consistently ranked above the venerated MIT. As you may have guessed, their athletics take a considerable backseat (locked in the trunk is more like it) to their academics. In fact, while I was at Oxy, the rumors were that Caltech students were required to play a sport for “stress alleviation”. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know we only won about 6 league games per year and three of them were against the Beavers.

Caltech’s basketball program has even become a minor cause célèbre with a documentary on the team’s struggles having been screened at a few national film festivals. The film’s tagline? “Quantum Hoops: Before they can change the world, they need to win one game.” Apparently this dream had come true as Caltech won their first game since 2004 against Bard earlier this year. To put that win into perspective, the Bard victory was their first win over an NCAA Division III opponent since the ’95-‘96 season. Not to worry though, Caltech was still working to keep their 245 game conference losing streak alive against Oxy. Would the unfamiliar taste of victory in the Beavers’ mouths lead Oxy to fall into a classic “trap game”? Well at halftime it appeared so. Oxy led 41-35, but only six minutes earlier, the game had been tied at 31. Unfortunately, the Beavers wouldn’t score for the first five and a half minutes of the second half and would eventually lose 92-49.

Still, denied a historic upset, I took away a few positives here. First, although I was hoping for a Revenge of the Nerds gameplan (Booger plotting trajectories with a slide rule and using quantam mechanics to hit three pointers) there is something surreal about watching a team of guys who haven’t played organized basketball since thier YMCA rec league compete in college basketball. Second, there aren’t many levels above high school where you can sit courtside at a basketball game for free. Finally, small college athletics is one of the last vestiges of an actual student-athlete. These kids hit the showers and then hit the books hard. There’s something refreshing about watching successful athletes who aren’t being accused of sexual assault, taking money from boosters, or taking advantage of institutionalized cheating simply because they can jump through the roof. The two games I’m looking forward to on Oxy’s remaining schedule are their February 6 rematch against Claremont McKenna, the team that knocked Oxy out of the rankings, and their February 20th game against California Lutheran University, who is also on the fringe of the top 25. See you there.

 

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