A Travellerspoint blog

May 2017

Chapter 16 - Cuba

By Neil

sunny 31 °C
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Fasslane, Scotland - 1962

Chief Petty Officer Brian William Cooke, Royal Navy, of Her Majesties Ship Anzio, a submarine support vessel, was on “20 minute sailing alert”.

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Good Lord ! Who is that handsome fellow ? I do believe it's CPO Cooke, RN

HMS Anzio needed to be ready to sail in 20 minutes due to a small issue on the other side of the world in a little place called Cuba. The alert status meant that the crew slept on board, including CPO Cooke. At that stage, he and my mother, Betty, had a 3 month old son, my elder brother Stephen.

On October 15th 1962, an American U2 sky plane had discovered that medium range nuclear weapons had been installed by the Russians in Cuba. Why was this a big deal ? Look at the map.

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Map showing just how close Cuba is to Florida

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The deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba in 1962.

The hands on the Doomsday Clock, the virtual clock operated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board since 1947, used to show how close the world is to a nuclear (and now climate) holocaust, were at 7 minutes to midnight, with midnight indicating the start of the holocaust.

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The Doomsday Clock is now at 2.5 minutes to midnight - mainly due to climate issues.

The US President, John F Kennedy started an arms blockade on Cuba on 23rd October 1962, stating that the nuclear missiles must be removed from Cuba. The Russian President, Nikita Khrushchev said “Nyet. Buggery offski”. Both sides had their hands on the big red button and in a very tense 24 hour period, nuclear war was a very real reality.

This stand off, eventually resolved on 28th October 1962, was called the Cuban Missile Crisis and is commonly believed to be the closest the world has come, so far, to nuclear war.

As an aside, the Russians had tried to keep the installation of nuclear missiles on Cuba secret, so much so that they didn't even tell their own military the truth about where they were going and why. They even kitted out the soldiers being sent to Cuba with cold weather gear and called the program “Operation Anadyr” (Anadyr is in the Russian Far East and we're going there in 2 months time) to keep the secret as long as possible.

Cuba

Cuba. Blimey. Where to start ? There is only one place to start.

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Fidel Castro – 13th August 1926 – 25th November 2016

Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution, overthrowing the heavily US aligned Batista dictatorship. Along with Che Guevara and Fidel's brother Raul, they started an uprising (which nearly failed on numerous occasions) which eventually toppled Batista and saw Fidel become leader of Cuba on 1st January 1959. He remained President of Cuba until 2006, when he handed over power to his brother Raul Castro, who remains President today.

After all I’ve written about the battle between America and Russia for supremacy of influence control in South and Central America, Cuba was our chance to really see what happens when America has no influence. And the country is communist. It was an eye opener.

Safety:

The first thing about Cuba, is that there are no, zero, none at all, safety concerns. Someone said, if you wanted to, you could sleep on the streets and be safe. This caused us to sit up and take notice. Particularly having been so alert and so careful for all of the previous 16 weeks (except French Guiana).

Education:

It’s free and it is very good. Many people have university degrees, some times many. The literacy rate is 99.98%.

Healthcare:

It’s free for everyone, and it is of a reasonable quality. Michael Moore, the American film producer has a fabulous segment in his film “Sicko” where he takes people injured in the 9/11 attacks on New York, and who’ve been denied medical care in the USA, to Cuba and they get treated. Free.

Democracy:

Er, you can vote for anyone as long as his first name is Raul and his surname is Castro.

Free Speech and Free Press:

There isn’t free speech and there isn’t a free press. Apparently the Communist Party still have a delegate in each residential building or complex.

Car Ownership.

In the US, car ownership is about 850 cars per 1,000 people. In Cuba, it is 38. It was only in 2011 that the private sale of cars was legalized. The government also recently stated it would allow the public to purchase cars without a government permit (previously rarely granted) although with a 400% mark up on the cars, this reform has not in fact had much impact for most Cubans.

Business ownership:

Until recent reforms, all business was government owned. It is only in the last few years as Raul has allowed a raft of reforms to stimulate the economy that small and medium size enterprises have been legalized. And this has change has been very slow, mainly starting with hostels, restaurants and and taxis.

Equality of Income:

This is, to me, where Fidel, if he was alive, and Raul, in his place, have limited the opportunities of their people. That’s being kind. Yes, there is equality of income in Cuba. Everyone is dirt poor. The annual income is US$240. Per year. For everyone. Well done Fidel. Good job Raul.

Humans are naturally industrious. They want a good life. They want to work hard. They want their children to be able to have a better life than them. They want to be able to do good things. All of this is not allowed in Cuba. The people’s ability to use their great education is severely limited. There are no jobs to be had, no matter how highly qualified you are.

There is, of course, a balance needed in equality of incomes; America has gone too far in the inequality. In my view, Australia is ok, but the Scandinavians have got it just about right.

Equality:

A positive outcome of socialism in Cuba, is that equality extends across society in terms of race and colour and there is extremely little, if any racism.

This is very unlike the rest of Central and South America where the equality disparity is significant between the main groups; Latino’s (people of Spanish descent), Indio’s (indigenous people), and black (people of slave descent).

Cuban life

Don’t get me wrong, there are cool aspects of Cuba, like the cars. They are, quite simply awesome. Castro placed a ban on the import of all foreign cars for about 40 years, which meant that the Cubans had to keep the old ones going. With a ban on the import of parts as well, this was a real challenge!

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Most of the cars are from before 1959. Note that example of fine engineering, a Russian Lada, in this photo.

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A Ford Coupe from the 1940’s

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A modern Cuban taxi. From what ? The 1930’s ?

Plus the one that Nikki got me a ride in. A 1958 Ford Edsel 400 cubic inch (6.55 litres) V8 petrol.

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Yes, yes, yes. The cars are cool, but what about the story of the owners? This bloke is the owner of the Edsel. Trained mechanical engineer. Worked in a factory as an engineer for 20 years until the late 1990’s until the factory closed due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and it's economic support of Cuba. As there was no other work as an engineer, he bought this old Edsel, did it up and it’s now his living. We met a lot of highly qualified people in similar situation. And when we asked it this might change, he said Cuba is like no where else, it is Socialist, and this is what it means to be socialist...

The Music

The music is awesome. And Everywhere. And very high quality. Every restaurant, bar and cafe seems to have a resident band that play through out the day. Everywhere you are, you can hear music.

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Band in a bar in Havana.

The buildings are incredibly run down, except in a few places. The Old City has been going through a major regeneration over the last decade or so, with a fund being set up to renovate and revitalize areas that had become very dilapidated. Here is some of the major sights from the Old City:

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Ah Fidel
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Ah Che

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Apart from some nice buildings, above, there is also the statue of a naked woman with a fork and high heels riding a cockerel. It means….. Well, I’ve no idea….

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So Havana to me is all about the cars and the music. The food? Well, I’m probably not feeling that charitable due to the food poisoning I got on day 2. Having been on the road for 128 days. I suppose it was inevitable, but….

We did go to some cool restaurants in Havana though, like this one:

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Cool restaurant in Havana.

Plus, of course the restaurant that we went to to celebrate me and Nik stepping out together for 10 years!

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Cuban Propoganda.....

There is a bit of propaganda, although to be honest not as much as we would have thought. Nik went to the revolutionary museum whilst I was indisposed following a dodgy prawn. There was a cartoon.

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The Parade of the Cretins (from left to right):

Bautista: “Thank you cretin for helping us to make the revolution”

Ronald Reagan (dressed as John Wayne): “Thank you cretin for helping us to strengthen the revolution”

George Bush Senior (dressed as Julius Caesar): “Thank you cretin for helping us to consolidate the revolution”

George W Bush (dressed as Schultz from Hogans Heroes (note the upside down book (see note below))): “Thank you for helping us to make Socialism irrevocable”.

(Note, below is the photograph of “Dubya” being informed of the 911 terrorist attacks whilst reading to kids in a school. Take a close look at the book)

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After Havana, we got a bus to Trinidad, a town south east of Havana. Trinidad is probably the oldest “intact” colonial town in the America’s. The stand out’s were the group of blokes playing in one of the squares.

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The bloke in the middle is playing a Marimbula

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A Marimbula. A box with different sized metal to give different bass notes.

Plus of course, the Beatles are really big in Cuba. In Trinidad is “Bar Yesterday”.

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Here are scenes from Trinidad:

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Trinidad main square

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View from the Bell tower.

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Donkey in the street in Trinidad. Nikki said it didn’t look happy. My view is that donkey’s are not supposed to look happy. They’re donkey’s. They’re made to look sad….

In the 1820’s, a house was built that is now called Casa Cantero. I’ve lived in houses with high ceiling’s before; 4 metres, 5 metres. But 8 metres?

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Now that is an old sewing machine….

If you’re going to display some wine you should display it on a bed…

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Aha! Then it was PIG TIME!

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Sorry, thought we were talking Pork Spare Ribs slow roasted with a BBQ sauce…. but no, I’m talking about the Bay of Pigs. La Bahia de Cochones. Once again it’s history time. We wanted to get a bit of beach time and Playa Giron, or as its known in the west, the Bay of Pigs, was our destination. It was also the destination of 1,400 CIA trained Cuban exiles in April 1961. The plan was to invade Cuba, wipe out the Cuban air force, whereupon crowds of Cuban rebels would join the invaders and overthrow Castro.

It was, for the Kennedy administration, an unmitigated disaster, from the point of view of not only not overthrowing Castro, but, more seriously, cementing and confirming his revolution. Following the attack, the phrase “Socialismo ou Muerte !”, Socialism or Death, became part of the Cuban vocabulary.

Playa Giron now? It really is a microcosm of Cuba. The beach and the waters are truly beautiful, juxtaposed against socialist failures (see below).

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The Scuba diving is awesome (although I didn’t get to do any, unfortunately, I only got to snorkel):

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Scuba diving at Playa Giron (not me unfortunately)

What really struck me though, was this:

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A resort had been built, maybe 30 years ago in the 1980’s, and it looks like one of those fabulous communist “Look what we can do!” projects that, probably, Castro opened with big ceremony but then the money ran out…

Oh, and the curtains in Hostel Luis, Playa Giron…

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The curtains in Hostel Luis, Playa Giron Cuba. Complete with fake red roses. Nice !

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The Special Period

Did I mention the average Cuban income per year of US$240 per person per year? I mentioned the battle for influence and control between the USA and Russia earlier on. The Russians, wanting to support this fabulous example of socialism, poured enormous buckets of money into Cuba from 1959 through to when the Soviet Union went belly up in 1989/ 1990. Then, for Cuba, the teat ran dry. And for the Cubans things seriously went bad. Virtually overnight half of the industries closed and the economy shrunk by 60%. Fidel announced a “Special Period in a Time of Peace” and some serious belt tightening went on. I’ll leave you with the biggest “Oh My God!” moment I’ve had since former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott awarded Prince Philip a Knighthood in the Australia Day honors...

Between 1991 and 1994, during the above mentioned "Special Period", the average Cuban lost ONE THIRD OF THEIR BODY WEIGHT ! For me that would drop me from 73 kg’s to 51 kg’s. That’s insane!

I’m really, really glad we went to Cuba. I don’t think it’s really possible to understand the reality of communism without having been there. I’m really looking forward to going to Russia!

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Posted by capetocape2017 07:34 Archived in Cuba Tagged of cars che bay fidel pgs Comments (0)

Chapter 15 - Central America - Guatemala

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Onto Guatemala....

Having started in Panama and travelled on to Nicaragua via Costa Rica, it was time to head to Guatemala, via El Salvador and Honduras. We had heard that the Easter week celebrations in Antigua were the best in Central and Latin America. We had to go take a look….

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We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala at 7 pm on Easter Saturday. Wow! Antigua is amazing.

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Antigua, Guatemala with one of three surrounding volcano’s towering over it.

Antigua was the capital city of Guatemala for 233 years, until 1776 when Guatemala City was given this honor. This change occurred when Antigua was all but wiped off the map due to a natural disaster.

Somewhat surprisingly was not one of the many volcanoes that destroyed the city, but rather an earthquake. The earthquake struck in 1773, leveling the city to such an extent that it took centuries for it to recover. There are still many ruins in the city which have not been repaired or removed from this event! The only original part of the renovated convent we stayed in that remained after the earthquake was this wall:

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Looking at the wall of the convent where we were staying. This wall was all that survived of the 1773 earthquake

Antigua – Easter Week – Semana Santa.

Although we arrived right at the tail end of the week, Antigua for Semana Santa is something quite special.

The religious fervour of the groups carrying Easter floats through the streets, and the floats themselves, was moving.

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Float of Christ being taken down from the Cross.

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The Devotees swinging baskets of scented smoke through the streets.

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Resurrected Christ.

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The Devotees ahead of the Float.

Following each of the floats was a band that consisted of french horns, trumpets, tubas, trombones, clarinets and drums (snare and bass). The music depended on which part of Easter the float depicted. A sad dirge for the crucifixion, a jolly ditty for the resurrection....

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The band that followed each float.

However, the unique part of the Antiguan Semana Santa celebration, is the street “carpets”.

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They are made from different coloured sand and sawdust and placed on the streets as an offering in order for the numerous processions to walk over. There are literally hundreds of these that are laid down for the Semana Santa. And they were artistically stunning:

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And then, within minutes they are destroyed and swept up into trucks following the processions!

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The parade walking over the “carpet”.

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The workmen cleaning up the “carpet”

It has to be said that, whilst the religious fervour of the crowd for the resurrection was moving, the actual image of Jesus on the float was a little, er, like Jesus had just popped out of a birthday cake and said “surprise!”, which, I suppose, in a way, he did……

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Antigua Town

Antigua is a beautiful colonial town, in a stunning setting at an elevation of 1,500 metres meaning the days are about 25C and the nights are 13 C. Great when you’ve just come from sea level where it had been bloody hot and humid. And Antigua has great food. Our favourite was probably “La Luna de Miel” (The moon of honey), where, rather appropriately for Nikki and I they had a signpost with our starting point of Ushuaia on it, and our finishing point of Cape Horn…..

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8,006 km’s from Ushuaia, at the bottom of South America, and 12,670 km’s to Cape Horn.

In the background is the biggest avocado tree we’ve ever seen.

Then again, me being a meat head, the steak at Frida’s Mexican Restaurant was stunning….Nikki had the best guacamole and nachos of the trip there as well!

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The placemat at Fridas restaurant, Antigua.

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Photo showing some of the food from Antigua.

Antigua is visually stunning…

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No fast food, no dogs, and no hand guns !

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My Sons, Alex and Michael

As some of you know, Guatemala is particularly interesting for me because Alex and Michael are one quarter Guatemalan. Their maternal grandmother was from Guatemala. Just like the book “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was a history of a town in northern Columbia, the story of my sons’ Guatemalan heritage is a reflection of the history of Central America, with all of its divergent parts, including guerrilla’s, the CIA, an El Salvadorean president, and coffee.

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Alex, Michael and me in Buenos Aires in January 2017

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Lake Atitlan:

84,000 years ago a bloody great volcano went bang. The caldera is 12 km’s by 5 km’s and is about 4 hours from Antigua (Actually only a 100 km’s. Yes the roads are a bit basic). The 340 metre deep caldera filled with water and formed Lake Atitlan. Other volcano’s formed until you end of with one of the most stunning visual settings in the world.

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Looking out over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

After our fill of Easter in Antigua, we decided to spend a few days relaxing on the lake. We spent our first night in San Pedro la Laguna.

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View of Lake Atitlan from our hotel in San Pedro la Laguna.

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Sunset Photo from San Pedro la Laguna

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Lake Atitlan from our hotel in San Pedro la Laguna.

Our plan was then to travel to the other towns around the lake by water taxi, and spend 2 nights in Tzununa. However, our first stop was San Juan, a centre for many Mayan artisans, including painters and weavers. On arriving into town, the tuk tuk by chance dropped us off outside the studio of Diego Isaias Hernandez Mendez’s and, well, there was a painting. Nik and I have said a couple of years ago that, whilst we weren’t going to carry around things for a year, if we saw stuff that we just went “Yes, I want that”, then we’d buy it and ship it back. Also, I’ve seen art in the past and loved it, and not bought it, and regretted it. As soon as I saw this, I loved it. It's not to everyone's taste (Nikki said it's going straight to the pool room), but there you go. And it’s my birthday present from Nikki. Thanks!

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My painting with the artist, Diego Isaias.

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It’s been posted from Mexico. I hope I get to see it again..

Guatemalan textiles

For you “Textile-Holics” out there, it’s over to Nikki:

Lake Atitlan is particularly renowned for weaving and textiles. Each of the villages around the lake have their own techniques, patterns and production. San Juan is particularly noted for its weaving cooperatives where local women come to dye, spin, weave and sell their produce. After rummaging in the Antiguan markets to familiarise myself with the different regions and techniques, I spent a happy couple of hours under a pile of fabric and weaving at Casa Flor Ixcaco, a weaving cooperative for the women in San Juan. The amount of weaving produced in the town is quite astounding, and the great thing about CFI is that each piece identifies the artist who made it and details around the processes and materials used. The fabric is 100% cotton, all locally grown. The cotton is hand dyed using local plants and natural materials, such as eucalyptus, mint, beetroot and various flowers. Many Guatemalan woman wear traditional clothing, which means that it is not produced solely for tourists, although there are beautiful modern designs as well as traditional to chose from.”

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Swatches of cloth on the wall of our hotel in Antigua.

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We then got on a boat around the lake to La Lguma de Tzununa, a hotel perched up on the hill with this view.

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It was a magical view. A magical smokey view. The level of deforestation around the lake was significant, which was not surprising when most of the cooking was done over a wood stove….

However, in all our time on Lake Atitlan was just the relaxing break we needed before our push north....

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This Bloke is on a bit of a walk.

So there’s this bloke called Paul Salopek. He thought it would be good to follow the path of humans movement from its’ cradle, thought to be Ethiopia, through to Tierra del Fuego. He called his trek “Out of Eden” and he started in January 2013 and is expecting to finsh in 2020. At present he is walking through Kyrgyzstan.

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In Australia, there is, in south western New South Wales, Lake Mungo. In 1969, Jim Bowler found the remains of what became known as Mungo Woman. Mungo Woman’s age was tested to be about 20,000 years old. In 1974, Mungo Man was found and his age was estimated to be 50,0000 years old.

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Lake Mungo, New South Wales, Australia, and Mungo Man

It’s believed that human kind did not manage to start “colonising” the Americas until they go across the Bering Strait from Russia during the Last Glacial Event, about 21,000 years ago. They then spread down through to Tierra del Fuego. This could explain why the Mayan ruins are comparatively young when compared with Egypt and India. Talking of Mayan ruins, we went to see one of the best, Tikal in Guatemala.

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Tikal

Tikal, in northern Guatemala, is one of the most significant Mayan sites yet discovered and is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Construction by the Mayan people started around 800 BC and continued up until about 900 AD. The ruins, the size of them, their antiquity is amazing.

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Looking out on the central square in Tikal.

We went for the sunrise tour leaving at 3 am. It was worth it for the light, the lack of crowds, and the serenity.

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Dawn over Tikal.

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Tikal is the only Mayan ruins that are in a rainforest.

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Showing the sacrifice stones…. Human Sacrifice that is…

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The complex was abandoned in about 900 AD. Why? Well, the theory is that the beautiful Mayans ran out raw materials. Tikal is one of the only major Mayan ruins still located the middle of a rainforest setting. Most have been substantially cleared. The area was also rainforest before the Mayans started building Tikal. To get to the limestone for building material, the Mayans needed to clear the rainforest. To make the limestone mortar, the mayans needed fire. To cook, they needed wood. A bit of a theme? Yes. By the time the complex was home to 100,000 people, it ran out of wood and was abandoned. It wasn’t until 1848 that the Guatemalan government sent out an expedition led by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut to take another look.

By the way, the temples were for astrological observations, not sacrifice. That was done on the rocks down on the ground…..

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To Belize and Mexico:

The trip from Flores, the very nice town that is the jumping off point to Tikal, to Chetumal, Mexico, is via another British colonial vestige, Belize. They are part of the Commonwealth and didn’t gain independence from Britain until 1981. It was very weird to get to the border and, for the first time in 16 weeks be asked to speak English again. But only for 5 hours and then it was onto Mexico. The Lonely Planet guide to Central America includes the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, so I will too. But the next blog is going to be from our one week trip to Cuba…..

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Posted by capetocape2017 08:21 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake santa semana atitlan tikal antigua Comments (0)

Chapter 14 – Central America - Nicaragua

By Neil

sunny 32 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

The Revolution and Ronnie.

“La revolución comenzó en 1978 aquí en León”, said Benito, a fighter in the Nicaraguan civil war and our guide at the Museo de la Revolucion in Leon.

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Nikki and Benito on the roof of the Museum of the Revolution, used as the headquarters for communications during the revolution and a surprising addition to our tour. As you can see, it is in perfect condition!

Nikki and I had travelled up from Panama City to Managua, Nicaragua, via San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, the previous morning.

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And then jumped on a ‘Chicken Bus’ for the last 100km’s to Leon. It was our first ride on a truly local bus and it was hot, crowded (standing room only for many) and cost less than $2.

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The old American School Bus used ubiquitously throughout Central America and dubbed ‘Chicken Buses’ because you were just as likely to meet a chicken as a person in your travels...

“Why did the revolution start?” I asked Benito.

“The Somoza Regime, backed by the Americans, was murdering the people. We had to rise up”.

The Somoza’s had ruled the country since 1937, having been placed there by the Americans following the US occupation of Nicaragua in 1912; part of the series of US occupations, invasions and control that are now referred to as the “Banana Wars”.

The FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front was formed in 1961 inspired by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and, as its activities increased in the 1970’s, the violent suppression of the people by the Somoza regime increased, supported by the USA.

Benito took us through (in Spanish) the murals, photos and propaganda material in the museum, which detailed the struggles they faced during the revolution, including a photo of a 22 year old Benito celebrating the liberation of Leon.

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A mural honouring the Nicaraguan heroes of the revolution.

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The kind of art work that pervades countries touched by conflict and revolution.

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Us on the roof of the Communications Centre with the Leon Cathedral in the background.

Uncle Ronnie

I am referring to the highly respected “B” rate movie actor and former President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

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One of the most critically acclaimed films of the former President of the United States, “Bedtime for Bonzo”

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, his administration supported the “Contras”, a mix of right wing groups organised to fight the Sandanistas (the abovementioned FLSN who were pushing for revolution in Nicaragua). The Russian’s were supporting the Sandanistas. A proxy war was being fought by the superpowers. Sound familiar?

As the war dragged on the US congress wanted to limit, and later stop, US support for the Contras.

Reagan believed that support for the Contras should continue and so began the Iran Contra Affair where the Reagan administration illegally took money from arms sales to Iran and funnelled it to the Contras. Below are a couple of cartoons about the Affair.

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As you can see it ended in a great scandal for Reagan and did not stop the revolution. Daniel Ortega became the president and has been in power, in one form or another, almost continuously since 1979.

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Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Nik and I have met lots of fantastic people on the trip. Smart people. Funny people. Interesting people. People with great insights on the world.

One of these people was an American bloke whom we met in the Posada Fuente Castalia, our hostel in Leon. First of all, you’ve got to love a bloke who has a PhD in writing. That’s cool. If one wants to have one’s thinking challenged it’s good to meet people with different experience and backgrounds. Our new American friend threw in a great thought.

I’ve been thinking, and going on about America’s involvement in South American and Central American politics, society, and government. Our American friend pointed out that his parents worked for a period in Venezuela, prior to Hugo Chavez getting into power. He pointed out that when a countries currency becomes so worthless that citizens start weighing their money when they want to but something, something has seriously turned to custard. America didn’t get involved in Venezuelan politics and Chavez managed to turn the country into a “failed” state.

The older I’ve got, the more I realise that, whilst in most situations it is easy to do what is right, there are some where the best solution is not good, it is actually the least worst solution. Maybe sitting back and handing influence and power to people backed by Russia (30 million murdered in the Gulags), or Castro (great if you want to live in the 1950’s), might not the best solution.

Something to think about……

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So, Nicaragua. First of all the highlight. Hiking up to the smouldering caldera of the Telica Volcano.

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Note the sulphur clouds drifting from the volcano…

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Joe, our guide told us that the last eruption was in May 2016, but it’s ok because it was only a small one.

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Looking at the top of the Caldera.

It was a steep hike in the sun (38 degrees) but the view of the caldera at the top made it all worthwhile! The scenery was very picturesque and the sunset was awesome!

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After watching the sunset and visiting a cave full of bats, we hiked back up to the caldera to see if we could spot any lava in the bottom of the caldera. I know it doesn’t look like much, but the circle of lava you can see was quite bright and it sounded like an airplane taking off!

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Photo looking down 124 metres at the lava at the bottom of the caldera

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Leon itself is a pretty colonial city. It is home to the largest Cathedral in Central America, built in 1747, 30 years before Captain Cook arrived in Australia. It is cool. And big.

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Our Lady of Grace Cathedral in Leon, Nicaragua.

Easter week in South and Central America is called the Semana Santa. Numerous floats are made up and carried through the streets, depicting various scenes from Easter, including Jesus carrying the cross:

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Float of Jesus carrying the Cross in Leon, Nicaragua. The float is about 2.5 metres wide and about 5 metres long. It is hand carried by about 20 devotees.

The local community set up shrines outside their houses:

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A shrine to the Virgin Mary outside of a house in Leon, Nicaragua.

The emotion in the crowd was palpable. For the crucifixion, there were tears, for the resurrection, applause. Below are some scenes from Semana Santa in Leon.

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The form of Jesus after being taken down off the cross being carried through the streets.

Leon was a fascinating introduction to Semana Santa, but we had heard that the Easter celebrations in Antigua, Guatemala were not to be missed. So, whilst it meant that we had to travel straight through Honduras and El Salvador, we left Leon at 2am on Easter Sunday morning to ensure that we arrived in Antigua in time for Easter Sunday evening.

Honduras, I’m sure, is a really nice place but with a murder rate of 1 in 1,000 per year, the bus driver basically kept his foot to the floor for the 3 hour crossing of the country. We also waved our way through El Salvador, creating a new record of three countries in one day!

And then there was Guatemala….

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Posted by capetocape2017 20:10 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged volcano santa semana roses n revolution guns Comments (1)

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