Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mines in Prince William Sound

There are a bunch of interesting mines in Prince William Sound. They're fun to explore, although sometimes made even more interesting by rotten timbers and caved-in roofs.

Oh, and they're always more or less flooded:

This is a cool stamp mill:

There are also little ore carts abandoned all over the place:

An old boiler:

Another ore cart:

Sometimes it's just downright sketchy - and fun!!!


Walking around in Prince William Sound

Here are some pictures of hiking during last summer's kayaking trip in Prince William Sound.

Kayaking pictures from Prince William Sound

This is fairly self-explanatory: here are some pictures of kayaking in Prince William Sound last summer.

I actually climbed onto this iceberg and did a crazy-fast seal launch off it!

Sea lions are curious there too, but by and large they left us alone more than in Sitka.

Cool rocks!

We got salmon twice from fishing boats. Quite the feast!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kayaking in Prince William Sound

Hello! Here are some random pictures from Prince William Sound, where Cathy and Steve and myself went kayaking in June. The pictures came out small, but deal with it...

Andromeda polyfolia

Boschniakia rossica

Fritillaria camschatcensis

Our state bird! The willow ptarmigan - Lagopus lagopus

Black oystercatcher

Haematopus bachmani

Melibe leonina

Metridium farcimen

Musculus discors

Nuphar luteum

Monday, September 21, 2009

List of the Birds of Titicaca / Lista de las Aves del Titicaca

I decided to use Google Doc as a test for one of my classes, and here is a worthwhile text for that application: the two-part list of the birds of the Reserva Nacional Del Titicaca, which I made last winter (boreal winter, that is):

Part 1

Part 2

And here's the paper I wrote about that:

Informe de Voluntariado RNT

Monday, September 14, 2009

Some Mexican birds

Okay, so I am incredibly far behind. I'll just blame this crazy summer for my delays in updating this blog. Now that fall is upon us and things get dreary, it's easier to find time to do this chore, but it's also a little sad to think back. Here's some birds - that's pretty fun and harmless. How about we start with the bat falcon Falco rufigularis?

If you've ever been wildlife-watching in tropical rainforests, you'll know just how incredibly hard it can be to see anything at all, and to know what you're looking at. Toucans, at least, make it easier by hanging out in clearings and making funny noises. This is Ramphastos sulfuratus, the keel-billed toucan.

And then, the tropics are also filled with birds from genera that I don't even know exist. The yellow-throated clorophonia, for example, may have been a beetle for all I knew. It turned out to be a cool little bird of the understory, Euphonia hirundinacea.

And this woodpecker is more of a variation on a familiar theme. The lineated woodpecker Dryocopus lineatus, looks much like the pileated woodpecker, except for its streaked chest and white stripes on the back.

Here's another very tropical bird, the red-legged honeycreeper Cyanerpes cyaneus.

This one is pretty common and familiar, but usually they've eluded me throught the tangle of vegetation. It's the groove-billed ani, Crotophaga sulcirostris.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Chilkoot trail run

Okay - I promise I will catch up eventually. I sprained my ankle on a run last weekend, so things are a bit slower now, and I might get some time to write up some blog posts. Thankfully, I don't have to write about that run, since, Emily already did!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The writing is on the wall: Guatemalan politics

Some people may have forgotten that what recently happened to the president of Honduras almost happened to Alvaro Colom, the president of Guatemala, just a little while before. His party is the UNE, and he is generally thought of as a moderate leftist. It is important to remember that the rule of law is not very stable in Guatemala. There are "parallel powers"that constantly challenge the authority of an apparently democratic state. These parallel powers are mostly formerly semi-official armed groups, narco-trafficking organizations, and business-owning families.

These guys made it easy for us: they got a logo that plainly suggests their fascist tendencies. Arturo Perez-Molina, the leader of the PP, or Partido Patriota is a war criminal. The PP's slogan was changed to Mano Dura for the presidential elections last year. Weirdly, the guy who designed their campaign had just designed a campaign in Honduras, for another right-wing bully, that was called Pugno duro (hard fist). After the Pugno Duro campaign failed in Honduras, a wave of executions of bus drivers in the capital was used to try and destabilize the legitimate government. After the Mano Dura campaign failed in Guatemala, a wave of executions of bus drivers in the capital was used to try and destabilize the legitimate government. Sounds weird? When Alvaro Colom pointed it out publicly, the executions slowed way down, as if by magic... We may never know what really went on at the time, since Guatemala is one place where conspiracies are the norm, not the exception.

The FRG, or Frente Revolucionario Guatemalteco, is led by Rios Montt - Reagan's good buddy and an all-out genocidal maniac when he was dictator in the early eighties. His party distinguished himself by spitting on and insulting the Nobel Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu inside the constitutional court! Wait! Isn't that bad enough? He actually didn't like it when the constitutional court ruled against his application for the presidency on the grounds that in Guatemala one can only be president for one term. His justification: he was never elected president; he was merely a dictator! So in 2003 he got a few battalions' worth of thugs together (not really thugs, in fact they were former paramilitaries), surrounded the constitutional court, and they changed their mind.

Is this depressing? Try watching your kids starve to death and join gangs. Try having your relatives abducted or executed, while the police cannot or will not do anything about it because they are too weak or are implicated in the first place. Guatemala is a relatively rich country, but it is on the verge of being a failed state. A Honduras-style coup is easily imagined there, and would instantly throw everything back a decade or so, to the times of the peace accords. The only people that wouldn't hurt would be the rich, and yet again the poor would pay. The revolutionary groups (the real revolutionary groups, not the FRG) don't have a clear leader. Even Rigoberta Menchu doesn't stand a very good chance at the polls.

Before any significant positive change is possible in Guatemala, the state needs to raise taxes (they are ridiculously low right now), and bring some of the GDP to the majority of Guatemalans whose only options are misery, emigration, and crime.

Worshipers and objects of worship

I generally find religion to be a little bit of a sad topic, so I generally stay out of it. How ridiculous would it be if we said that only our own language was true, and all other languages were wrong? That's often what I see with religion, where most people seem to be unable to break through a thin doctrinal veneer to get to the underlying philosophical issues. However, in Guatemala religion is just too important to be overlooked. It is all too easy to forget that the few news we get from Central America are restricted to the tiny ruling class and natural disasters. It must be remembered that Central America is mostly about peasants and gods, not politicians and hurricanes.

First of all, the dead are a little bit more alive. We all know about the Day of the Dead in Mexico, but there is another aspect to this. Certain dead people have more influence than other. Those dead people are on their way to becoming minor deities.

Witness, for example, this interesting grave in Xela. It is that of a girl who supposedly killed herself in 1927 when the man she loved came back from Spain with a wife. A famous poem was written about her by Jose Marti:

Quiero, a la sombra de un ala,
contar este cuento en flor:
la niña de Guatemala,
la que se murió de amor.

Eran de lirios los ramos,
y las orlas de reseda
y de jazmín: la enterramos
en una caja de seda.

…Ella dio al desmemoriado
una almohadilla de olor:
él volvió, volvió casado:
ella se murió de amor.

Many people are convinced that this dead girl can infuse love into their wayward husbands and beloved classmates, so they'll write little recados, or wishes, all over the tomb, which has to be repainted quite frequently in order to make blank spaces.

Some of these dead people become deities, like the little skeleton effigy of El Rey San Pascual, which was recently booted out of a Catholic church because he was distracting the worshipers. The worshipers just built a whole new chapel around him, and he even gets recados from Guatemalans who emigrated to the United States. Many, many towns have such minor deities.

Here is one of the more controvertial among those minor deities. Meet San Simon, a strange object of veneration. This person is the effigy of a white man, and supposedly stands in for a complex Mayan deity, or the devil, or a Christian saint, or nothing at all, depending on who ou ask. The fact is, very poor people waste their money and their hopes giving his puppets whiskey, tequila, cigarettes, candles, incense, money, and some say that women sleep with the life-size puppet of him in a couple of towns.

He is the perfect excuse for an annual day of debauchery. The whole town (pregnant and old women included) gets drunk "in his honor," and he even has a sponsor beer.

Did I mention the dead person who made it furthest? Guatemala is very Catholic, and various brands of evangelical movements have been very active lately. I once dared suggest that had Muslims invaded, raped, and destroyed Meso-American civilizations, Central America would be Muslim, and that had Buddhists invaded and enslaved the Mayan heartland, Guatemala would be Buddhist. The very liberal people to whom I suggested this were incensed. Of course, there is only one true religion, everyone else is wrong, God speaks to some people and Satan to others, and I am going to hell. Quickly.

Thankfully, the traditional religions are being revived in more tolerant, objective, and open-minded ways in many, many places. It's not always New Age ideas, either. Some of it is real, deep, and directly connected to solid traditions and scholarhip. There are more Mayan priests all the time, and they might be getting better all the time, too.

There are many people who have been climbing mountains to light candles in sacred places where there is no mandatory tithing, no tequila store, and more than one possible way to understand the world.

But there are also some clear disconnects with the traditions, such as with this statue of a monkey in Takalik Abaj. Many locals believe that it helps fertilitybecause it is "pregnant." In fact, modern scholarship is pretty unequivocal: that's just the style of the bygone civilization that carved it.

Here's a celebration of the Mayan New Year in Laguna Chicabal - a volcanic crater lake that supposedly harbors the gods of rain.

Many people saw nothing strange about having a Pentacostal ceremony on the lake shore.

Most of the ceremonies were private and traditional, but the church still has its hand in this. The Mayan oral tradition is almost entirely lost, and most of what we know of it comes from a corrupted version written down by a priest. Many traditions were artificially paralleled with Catholic traditions. This particular one was changed to where the "Mayan new year" coincides with ascension, so that it no longer follows the Mayan calendar, or coincide with the beginning of the rainy season.

It's nice to see that people can now practice their traditions without being persecuted for it.

And by the way, if this is interesting to you, you might want to look into the cult of the Santa Muerte in Mexico. What are its links to organized crime? Is it a native tradition? Is it compatible with Christianity? Is it pseudo-witchcraft? What right does the Mexican government have to act against it? Is it going to become a significant trend in the US?

Clearly there are many questions, and no easy answers, even if one sticks to the basic aspects of any religious practice.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Time flies! I've already gone three whole months without writing anything at all in this weblog. I just sprained my ankle and school doesn't start until tomorrow, so this might be a good time to try and get things somewhat up-to-date.

Well, after studying at the Escuela de la Montaña, I went to the Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco de Español, a rather famous and large school, where I studied such things as the works of Asturias, and some Latin American history. I was not able to do many tourist activities, but I did learn a lot about Latin American culture.

I also learned to navigate the Guatemalan trasportation system, for example doing an epic, two-day loop through the mountains, then across Lago de Atitlan, then through the Pacific Coast lowlands using a whole range of excentric modes of transportation (of course, my camera died during that trip).

Most importantly, I learned a lot about the Guatemalans. The poverty level in Guatemala is incomprehensible. Many, many people are malnourished - especially children. Beans are surprisingly uncommon in poor houselholds, and aren't normally grown in the plantations (farmers are almost completely dependent on low-quality, subsidized fertilizers). As a result, proteins are in short supply, and many families rely on their kids killing birds and catching crabs to put small amounts of protein on the table.

The main cultivation there is coffee - which does the vast majority of the population very little good and enriches a small elite of mostly white, quasi-aristocratic families.

There are also other crops, obviously, mostly classic tropical crops such as mangoes, bannanas, lots of cardamom, skinny cows, slash-and-burn in the northern jungles, etc. This is a small view of a rubber plantation.

Thankfully, not everything is a monoculture. This tree fern grows in a coffee plantation. Although the normal threat to tree ferns is exploitation for making garden ornaments, in Guatemala it seems to be mostly harvested for the supposed medicinal qualities of the heart of the stem.

Birds are fairly rare in many parts, often because they are pretty intensively hunted. This parrot is just one of many, many unusual pets I came across in and around people's homes.