Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Marimba

What is the national instrument of Guatemala? You guessed it (or maybe you didn't), the marimba! If you don't have the slightest clue what a marimba is, then this is the blog for you.

I was lucky enough to accompany a friend to a village near Antigua, Guatemala where a marimba maker and player lived.

The marimba is a percussion instrument. In Guatemala it is traditionally made out wood from the the Hormigo tree (scientific name Paplonacea).
The large chambers under the instrument are what makes the tones differ. A truly good marimba won't vibrate when played. That means the craftsmanship must be concise and brilliant. 
In order to be a true marimba orchestra, two marimbas are used simultaneously - one with higher notes, one the base (on right). 

Not only is the tone and sound important, but the elegant detail of the carved wood also make the marimba a prized instrument. 

If you are walking around Guatemala in any tourist area, you will most certainly be able to find live marimba music...probably every night. Marimba music is also blared loudly out of shop doors and local eateries. If you listen to it too long, it begins to sound like circus music! 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eating Gourmet in Antigua

There is something to say about having a budget...a tight budget at that. As you can see from Sarah's joy below for the challenge it provides, we had quite fun finding cheap, cultural spots to eat in Antigua, Guatemala.
1. It forces you outside of the tourists zone.
2. It creates a game out of finding the cheapest, best food in a place.
3. It opens up what life is like for the majority of the locals.
4. It can be a bowl of laughs.
5. It creates conversations with locals...especially when documenting the experience with photos.

It is one way that tourism has the ability to transform into travel...stepping out of the ease of life as you know it, and consciously making an effort to be a part of another way of life. Being a part of other's lives. Strangers lives. It's nice to travel in your own hometown too!
Welcome to Pollo Frito Pinulito. Fried Chicken. Mmmm good!
As we got to the little whole in the wall fast food joint, there were no fries, so we had a good 10 minutes to hang out with some guys that were unloading a food supply truck. What kind of food supply truck, you may ask? Good old Wal-Mart. That's right, capitalism and monopolization at it's best! Scary! Very! The guys were happy for a little camera break and to be celebrities for the rubia (blond) tourist (me). We exchanged  stories as the security guard with the automatic rifle listened with smiles and nods.  
With our 15 Quetzales ($1.75) dinner ready to eat, we kindly paid and made our way through the rain back to our high class hostel (no sarcasm here). The smell of fried chicken and fresh French fries wafting our way in the moist air, I couldn't tell if it was rain falling or drool. 
A bright table cloth, solid wood table and chairs and romantic lighting set the mood. 
It was time to eat! Now, the part that I missed documenting was that our greasy paper bags serving as make-shift plates quickly become large, sparkling white ceramic dinner ware. The owner of the hostel saw our savage ways and immediately made an intervention. With real plates and real metal utensils, we truly were living the high life. 
To top off the night of gourmet eating, we didn't stoop by drinking the normal Clos boxed wine. Instead, Gato Negro was on sale for 27 Q (about $3.50), which was even cheaper than the boxed wine! Hurray for sales. Hurray for fancy glass wine bottles. Hurray for creating a new definition for "classy!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

North Carolina Aquarium

There are not many words that rhyme with my name, Miriam, but Aquarium is one of them. So, any time I get a chance to check out a new one, I'm on my way.

Being that is was over 100 degrees out and only the crazies where sunbathing at the beach, we decided to head to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island (Manteo, NC).

From two touch tanks, multiple ecosystems and a huge salt water tank, I'd give the place two thumbs up. Way to help educate folks about one of the most diverse coast lines in the world.
Kids in AH as scuba divers clean the large salt water tank. 
Deanna and Marc having an educational trip with their little one. Marc, where is that hand going?

The largest animal in the tank is a seven foot shark that kept many people, large and small, mesmerized. 
Keeping Quinn amused during lunch. Or maybe it should be "Keeping Marc amused" during lunch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Enter Antigua

One of my favorite activities in Antigua was walking the streets and looking at the amazing colonial doors, windows and iron-work. I thought that everyone saw these finer details as beautiful gifts only seen in a place such as this, but upon walking through the city with some friends, I soon realized that I was slowing us down in a major way. Antigua, Guatemala is a UNESCO Heritage Site, as it was the former capital of Guatemala and the finer qualities brought about by colonialism still hold strong. I guess other people thought it was pretty spectacular too. 
The main door to the church off Plaza Central. 

Solid, wooden door. Antigueno (old), if you will. 

Crumbling wall near down town contrasting brightly painted building faces. 

Casa Blanca.

A faux wall resting against a real wall in ruins of an old monastery. 

My favorite door to date in Antigua-antique wood with hues of green.

Door knocker.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

From a Tinted Lens

Returning to the United States after three months abroad during the 4th of July weekend was an experience. The little bits of culture shock that were more evident this time around than ever before stood out to me like a broken finger (middle finger). Heading to the Outer Banks, which is such an acclaimed beach vacation destination left me in meditation on the beach as families bitched about someone not bringing the right things in the cooler. About the heat. About their sunburn. People drank booze, tugged at their beer bellies and swore about...well, about many things. Here are some of my observations:

-Americans tend to complain about just about everything.
-Americans tend to point fingers and blame, having an underlying anger.
-The air of entitlement lingers and swirls and settles like old dust infecting everything it touches.

Yes, I am American-Canadian and have spent most of my life in America. I have caught myself in that entitlement. I have caught myself complaining and blaming my poor upbringing, my government, my mother, the death of my father…and in the end, what good does that do? It just makes us all feel crappy about life. So, step one, is to be aware. My step two, is to change, so I’d like to devote this blog and many after to the bright side of life. The gifts we are given, the privileges we have, the rights we take for granted.    

This fourth of July as I tried to fit in, I found myself sitting over-looking the Sound in North Carolina. I was honored to be visiting my friends, (whom I consider family), and getting to know their new baby daughter, Quinn. I was, without question, welcomed into a strangers home for freshly caught grilled fish, salads galore and Modelo's in a can. Paradisio! 

The water was warm, the sunset tinged our evening with pinks and oranges and little Miss Quinn slept protected and cradled by her loving, devoted, new mom, Deanna. Happy 4th, and a formal welcome to Quinn into this crazy, beautiful world! Congrats Marc and Deanna!