TRC – My experiences

Sunday, March 26, 2017

This is a slightly edited version my journals regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Edmonton and it Ottawa. It’s primarily intended for my students, so they don’t have to listen to me talk ad nauseum!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I’m in Edmonton, to take part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s last set of hearings. The TRC has held hearings across Canada for about the last five years. Many people have come forward to tell their stories about residential schools, those who attended and those who suffered the consequences of them. There’s no question that reconciliation isn’t complete; it could never be. However, the topic is out in the open, and many others with it. The question tends always to be phrased as “Has the government done enough? Are its efforts sincere?” I’m not sure that matters a whole lot. The people are protecting each other, and a whole lot of Euro-Canadians have joined them.

We’ve talked a certain amount about residential schools in AN2550. I led them through the historical process that started with the Alternative Dispute Resolution process – the confessions and grading of abuse, assigning points to determine compensation owed. When that was an obvious failure, the Canadian government finally sought out the input of Indigenous people.

On CBC Radio’s The current this morning there was a youth panel. It was quite good, but the real drama came with the “final word”: a poem by Dan Saddleman of Merritt, B.C. He’d spoken it to the Commission in May, 2013: “The monster.” The repeated refrain is, “I hate you, residential school.” In graphic language he describes it chewing and grinding him up, squeezing the Indian out of him, dumping him into the toilet and flushing him out with no love, no parenting. I wanted to play it for the class (along with a CBC TV panel from last week), but realized it was too dramatic, too emotional, and I wasn’t sure I could help students through it. When I googled Saddleman before class, I found him reciting another poem, one about approaching the residential school again, and finding it to be sad and old – and used for good purposes. He forgives it, and it breaks into tears, saying how grateful it is to still be standing on Indian land, where it has been purified by medicines and put to good uses. As he turns to leave, the school calls out to say he’s forgotten something – a ghost little boy who runs up and jumps inside him. Saddleman provided the antidote to the horror he made real. (I was worried about how he could live with all that hate, even if it made perfect sense.)

Wallace, Jessica (2013 May 28). “You didn’t care how you ate up my native culture” Dennis Saddleman, poem. Vernon Retrieved from

‘Monster’ by poet Dennis Saddleman: ‘I hate you residential school, I hate you’ (2014, April 3). The current with Anna Maria Tremonti. Retrieved from

On The National last night, Commissioner Chief Wilton (Willy) Littlechild (Ermineskin) talked about what kept him sane through residential school: hockey. The priests loved to have the boys win championships, rewarded them with food. . .  (One day at the Hearings, he wore an Edmonton Golden Bears hockey jersey.)

Also on CBC’s Aboriginal topic area today was a photo exhibit at city hall: homeless people in Edmonton, another legacy of the residential schools. A number of the Aboriginal people portrayed could not be convinced to apply for the Common Experience Payment.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I had a great time at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission today. The Shaw Conference Centre is on Jasper Avenue at about 97th St., built into the hillside going down the river bank, with a glass roof. Long staircases, escalators and glass elevators slope down for four long floors. Quite beautiful, waterfalls and plants. In a corner, I initially smelled dope – then realized it was sweetgrass smudge.

Hall A is a huge room that holds thousands of people on rows of movable chairs. The first time I was in there, I sat at the end of a row next to a woman from Sechelt. I later learned to go for the back wall, where there were few chairs, more room for legs and more room around the chair. Being far away from the stage didn’t matter, as they have a huge screen on each side of that – great visibility and acoustics.

I arrived at the time Honorary Witnesses were highlighted: Shelagh Rogers, Wab Kinew, Joe Clark, and Joseph Boyden. Commissioner Wilson had this job of inducting Kinew. Smart, eloquent, funny; actually, this description works for most everyone I saw emceeing today. Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson was a CBC journalist and broadcaster. Her husband is Stephen Kakfwi, who was Premier of the NWT, as well as being a musician. He’s a survivor. She has an honorary doctorate.

A panel discussion began, moderated by Shelagh Rogers. She is an editor of Speaking my truth, a collection of the oral experiences of residential school survivors, published by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. I just ordered a copy of it from, though it’s also available as an ebook. Pearl Calahasen (long-time MLA for Lesser Slave Lake) spoke of the perpetuation of sexual abuse, partly as a result of guilty pleasures and the inability to distinguish healthy from unhealthy sex. I would have stayed, but then I saw Miranda Recollet and her work buddy Rebecca, from the G.P. Friendship Centre. I joined up with them and went outside, where they had a smoke. (Melody, another of their co-workers, asked if I were there alone. “Laurie is never really alone,” said Miranda.) This was right beside the Sacred Fire, which is kept burning during the entire hearings session. I took the opportunity to smudge in sweetgrass burning in a cast iron frying pan. Ashes from each hearing’s sacred fire are added to the fire of the next; other than the bags of tears, I don’t know what else is burned in the fire.

There are two rooms in which Sharing Circles take place. I spent over an hour in one. A couple of men spoke, then a woman. There was only a little weeping; I think they’d told the stories many times before, and this was mostly for the benefit of a new audience. The audience must have been about 100 people in rows of chairs around a circle. This still left plenty of room around the wall, where people sat on the floor with their backs propped up. I liked this area; again, plenty of room. There were people of all ages, plenty of them seemingly university students, and of all physical appearances: White, Black, Chinese, etc. Mostly Indigenous, though. Health workers (I think that’s the term) patrol these rooms and the large hall, delivering tissues and water wherever needed, watching to catch anyone who may be emotionally distraught. They carry paper bags with which to take away used tissues; these are burned in the sacred fire.

Justice Murray Sinclair was emceeing the stories of survivors in Hall A when I returned. Speaking was Donald Morin – one of those striking artistic types. He’s a film-maker and actor, and the experiences he related had to do with too much alcohol and drugs, a bit of jail time, the inability to be reliable or to settle, a number of apologies to partners and children. Artistic, erratic, exotic, unique – there’s another word I’m seeking and can’t find. Idiosyncratic. Eccentric. I daydreamed for a minute, and came back as he said that in his personal research he’d learned he’d been in sixteen foster homes in the first four years of his life.

This is, of course, one of the consequences of the residential schools: inability to parent, poverty, substance abuse, children taken, foster homes, insecurity and no attachment, more substance abuse. One needs a tree-like diagram to follow the threads and consequences.

Hall B is the learning space, where churches have set up the archives of residential schools in big displays, listing and mapping their schools and posting their apology. Lots of people were in there, looking at photo albums and such. They’d sit at a table with a photo album, each photo in a plastic sleeve, and stick on post-it notes to label children or make comments. The Catholic Church had the biggest area of all. It was really cool to watch people at all this.

In the afternoon, I attended the session of the National Research Centre of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is in the formative stage, only, and is to continue the work of the TRC, in the sense of compiling and continuing to collect residential school materials. (  Led by Ry Moran, recently-named director, the panel included two members of the Elders’ Advisory Council of the TRC, Wab Kinew (Director of Indigenous Inclusion, University of Winnipeg – a program focusing on aboriginal entrepreneurship and business training), a woman very active in indigenous education – terrific – and a Social Work student from Manitoba (U of M, I think). (One of the advisory elders is Doris Young, who teaches at University College of the North.) The director and the Centre itself are housed at – moving into – the University of Manitoba. (Universities in most provinces have partnered with the NRC, all but Alberta – which had the most residential schools!) Before this, Moran was Director of Statement Gathering for the NRC.

The purpose was to elicit the audience’s concerns about and aspirations for the NRC. The panelists spoke of several variations on it being accessible, interactive, and attractive. Wab Kinew reminded us that not everyone thinks of scavenging in an archive as their favorite Saturday afternoon activity. The NRC is to continue gathering statements after the TRC finishes its mandate, in June 2015. (Chief Wilton Littlechild points out that the Commission hasn’t gone to enough prisons or hospitals, for example.)

Kinew is such an appealing personality. He’s handsome and well-spoken – a rapper. Speaks Anishnabe, passable Dakota and excellent English. Best of all, he’s so political. The social tragedy resulting from residential schools is really important – but we mustn’t forget the whole complex of which the residential schools are just one facet, the overtly stated goal of eliminating indigenous people. While reconciliation is economic and political and social, most importantly, it is spiritual. He came out tonight carrying his pipe in a brilliant red, beaded bag.

He says the education funding for Indian children is half that for non-Indian (because of federal vs. provincial + federal) funding. Look into this. $3500 is the approximate number he quotes for Indian kids. Kinew also feels that the deal the AFN negotiated w/ the federal gov’t, i.e. the proposed First Nations Education Act, is a really good start to redressing this imbalance.

This was the whitest audience I saw anywhere – obviously including a whole bunch of academics. The audience had a number of really strongly felt and sometimes emotional responses to make. A disproportionate number of those who got to speak to microphones were Aboriginal – which is fine, as the academics can express themselves via email. The Aboriginal speakers tended to start off with a fairly innocuous goal, and then move into a very personal and emotional statement. I’m remembering the Gwich’in cultural anthropologist who has visited thirty countries. (Could be with the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, She wants the NRC to sponsor cultural programs on the land, so people can learn to feather ducks. The audience speakers (Aboriginal and white) wanted the NRC to advocate for education, healing programs for survivors, etc. I took notes on this, which I don’t remember right now, but I do remember thinking that this was distant from the NRC’s purpose, which is to be an archive and storage centre for all the materials and statements gathered by the TRC in its five-year mandate – and, I think, for all documentation regarding residential schools, period. All hearing sessions are videotaped, as are even private stories, if the teller so requests.

One of those who spoke up at this session was from the Shingwauk Project, associated w/ Algoma University. Indigenous scholars must form part of the NRC.

Justice Sinclair came in partway through and sat off to the side. At the end, he came to the table to rein it all in. In the most dramatic way, he spoke of all the atrocities committed on indigenous peoples and of all the work there is to be done in so many areas – and that the NRC’s purpose is to collect and archive all the basic information, the primary documents, the stories. They did research on TRCs around the world, and found that most lost the documents after the commissions wrapped up, as governments sought to bury the truth once it had been exposed. (Most of South Africa’s, for example, is buried underground and is literally disintegrating. I wonder about the Holocaust or Australia.) Historically, academic institutions (protected by the principle of academic freedom) are the ones most likely to be able to protect archives. Prior to getting access to archives, researchers will have to undergo a cultural training ceremony. He brought me to tears with his recital. In the midst of it, he silenced a woman who was insisting on interrupting him. There may well have been a prior history between them, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Here come da judge.” One reason the TRC had a year of life added on was because the federal government has millions of documents to hand over (e.g. new ones that might provide more evidence on nutritional and medical experiments w/ residential school students). Churches are also obligated to hand over all their documents. Provinces, however, are not.

There is some concern from relatives of survivors that they won’t have access to the records. Will they, too, have to go through the cultural training? How will they be authorized to get records? Anyone?

One of the audience was Rebecca Cardinal Sockbeson, an aboriginal woman who teaches at University of Alberta (Assistant Professor and Indigenous Peoples Education coordinator). She spoke of the need for “institutionalized” or “systemic” reconciliation, a new term Sinclair liked. It refers to regulations and laws to force the teaching of materials on residential schools in education curricula. (The education woman on the panel says they have it in their curriculum. I can’t remember her institution right now.) U of A has just made an Aboriginal studies course required for BEd students.

Funny. There was a white woman in the second row who put up her hand immediately, but kept getting overlooked when audience members were asking questions. (It may have been intentional.) Finally, she had her chance. She wanted to, rather slowly and painfully, summarize what others had said. As if that were necessary!

The afternoon’s activities between 4 and 6 wrapped up in Hall A. (To be remembered: this whole thing is free and open to the public. I’m proud of Canada, and very impressed with organizers.) Many different sets of people made promises of reconciliation in the form of offerings to the Bentwood Box. These are fairly high-profile individuals and groups, ecumenical councils, artists, people who have had something to do with the residential school experience.

According to Duncan McCue, “These ‘Expressions of Reconciliation’ — usually represented by a physical object and an oral statement in front of an audience — were made by everyone from residential school survivors to church representatives and government officials.” (McCue, Duncan (2015, May 30). Residential schools: Promises of reconciliation saved in a bentwood box.” CBC News/Aboriginal. Retrieved from

I have no idea how they’re chosen; some spoke of the honor of being invited, but I would guess they make application and are then invited. Not sure. After the oral statement, the offering is placed in the Box with all three commissioners, all donors and two members of the Advisory Council touching it. This is all going to the NRC, in the old Chancellor’s Hall at U of M – but the building doesn’t look too huge! And I’m guessing they’ve accumulated a whole lot of stuff over five years and seven hearings.

The Minister of Education for Alberta says that learning of the residential schools will become part of the Alberta schools’ curriculum.

Honorary Witnesses then gave their talks.

First was Cyndy Blackstock. I’d heard her referred to earlier in the day for doing serious research on Aboriginal children in care, i.e. taken from their parents. She had some incredible statistics. She was loud, strident, angry, radical. She attributes the number of children in care to several causes, residential schools, poverty and substance misuse among them, but particularly underfunding of social assistance on reserves. I have much to learn from her. Nice, liberal people can probably see First Nations people as having suffered a great deal, leading to all sorts of distortions and deviance, but have no concept of the systemic racism and discrimination, e.g. in deliberate underfunding of First Nations education and social programs. It’s OK; Blackstock got a standing ovation, and when Kinew later spoke of education underfunding, he got even more.

Joseph Boyden’s reflections were on video; he’s in Europe somewhere.

Kinew spoke of his father – how amazed he would be to see the thousands of people in attendance at these hearings. He did speak at the first one, before he died. It is incredible to see an event like this. It would not have been conceivable twenty years ago.

In some ways, this is like any other conference. By attending this, I miss that; am I seeing the best there is? What if I get bored and leave just before the good stuff comes? Differences are that it is free, does include all sorts of people, and has events for the hoi-poloi and ordinary folk. In the morning, I was resentful at the induction of prominent figures as honorary witnesses; as the day wore on, I began to realize that they are not being recognized for who they are, but for what and whom they represent. I realize also that this is true for the many Aboriginal recognition ceremonies, with which I have never felt quite comfortable. That’s because I come from a hierarchical culture, where recognition means superiority. In this one, recognition means enhancing certain actions or traits in everyone. That’s what an egalitarian society does.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Another good day at the TRC hearings.

This morning I attended a session on reconciliation between settler society and First Nations. A U of A prof from New Zealand was pretty eloquent – seemed to speak Maori, though she sure didn’t look like one! Residential schools there don’t seem to have been as destructive as they were here. 75% of the Maori population was lost in colonization. In the court process to establish rights to land, Maori had to be able to prove, recite genealogy, use of land. Not all could or would. Not all people are represented. Many are lost. Maori speak of biculturalism and binationalism.

There was also a young Aboriginal woman who’d been raised in a white adoptive family. She’d been given up at birth, and was adopted at three months. Her adoptive father died young. Mother remarried to a guy who would have preferred she forget she was Aboriginal. She tracked down her mother (who had been an Aboriginal university student when she got pregnant) and learned that her father was one of the first two Indian lawyers in Saskatchewan. And I’ve forgotten more.

Of the audience I remember a little more. Dennis Whitford wondered how to get mainstreamers mobilized, how to get change in the community; in his area, at least, town council won’t even build an arbour for events or powwows. They just don’t think the Aboriginal population is important enough. Academic, theoretical, mobilization is all fine and dandy…

Most interesting was a middle-aged white woman, just getting to know about the residential school experience. Given that the designers and implementers of residential schools had good intentions, she wanted to know where they had gone wrong. After all, there were British boarding schools; they were just bringing over what worked for them. Justice Sinclair reminded her that colonizers didn’t have good intentions at all; they intended to forcibly eliminate Indians (either physically or culturally) in order to get their resources. Nothing about it was well-intentioned; that’s a settler myth. Genocidal assimilation was intentional. It’s one thing when the boarding school is to uplift the best (the most British upper-class) of its students; quite another when it is to eliminate the Indian. First People’s treaty negotiators sought education (with the pen) to add to what they already were as complete peoples.

Another young woman has done residential school research for the federal gov’t for 14 years. She wants to know how to deal with the guilt and shame. She’s reminded that although both Euro-Canadians and residential school survivors may feel shame, neither should; they bear no responsibility. Do not throw out your white ancestors! On the other hand, “From this day forward…”

Shelagh Rogers attended that session, and I got to talk with her for a few minutes. I said, “I bet you’re having a great time!” which she was, and told her what a great fan I am, and that I was really glad to see her at that event. It added to my admiration for her, to see her at something so “real,” and where her celebrity was scarcely noticeable. Others were far more important.

Over lunch, I spent time in Hall B. The churches’ residential school displays were well attended, as they were yesterday. Volunteers said that survivors were going through and labelling people in albums, but mostly they were looking for pictures they wanted photocopied. Families took few photos of their children – “Right. Didn’t have cameras!” I said. Or no, because they photographs extracted some portion of soul. (I keep asking permission to take photos, forgetting that in a public place, photos are permitted. Also that this artwork is meant to be shared, not copyright protected.)

From 1300-1400 I was at what I think of as the “blanket project.” I should have asked more about it – why the use of large pieces of Hudson’s Bay Blankets, stitched together, for example. On this huge piece of fabric were hand-stitched responses to Steven Harper’s “Canada has no experience with colonialism” comment. (Simard, Colleen (2009, October 3). Harper drops the ‘C-bomb” on G20. Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved from Some people were writing on or stitching on new comments. We were invited to write our own in a book. I sat down to think up what I wanted to say.

When talking with students this term about language, for example, I pointed out that Martha Mzvondiwa, from Tanzania, writes English as well as they do, though she sounds very different. Why do we speak the same language – even if different dialects? I asked. It took a good while for them to remember that we share a colonial past, both having been colonies of Britain. They don’t even realize Canada was a colony.

“Colonizers don’t see colonization.” (I wish I’d said, “Colonizers don’t see colonialism.”) “It merely set the stage for the Euro-Canadian state.” In their mind’s it’s a continuous, natural and harmonious process, inevitable, manifest destiny. The colony was part and parcel of state formation.

Then I went to one of the Sharing Circles. I only intended to stay an hour, but ended up staying for the whole thing, two hours. I was seated next to a woman my age who has recently returned from thirty years in Burkina Fasso. Although Canada has changed a great deal, and this process would never have been possible 30 years ago, it is strangely similar to BF. I would have liked to spend more time with her, but there are no breaks in the circle process, and by the end of it, we were both too tired to make the effort to get to know a new person.

This was a long and strenuous Sharing Circle. The moderator (Québécois) began by reminding participants that, in this setting, they would be recorded and both image and sound might be used and viewed by others, online, for example. Everything is audio- and video-taped, and lots of photographs, too. Private sessions are not.

First speaker – long, somewhat messy white hair. Going to residential school meant working. There was no time for learning because they were too busy taking care of animals and the garden. He did not learn to read or write. He wept telling of his youngest grandson asking him to read a book, and having to say, “I can’t.”

Then another man, an ironworker. Good looking, in good physical shape, well groomed. Prides himself on working hard all his life. As a good father, he trained his son to do the same thing – but he was a lousy daddy. He had this son and two daughters, and later found he’d fathered another daughter, whom he only met when she was 16. He didn’t expect to live beyond thirty, because he was determined to kill a white man. “All male survivors are abusers,” he said. “They taught us to cheat, lie, steal, hurt, bully” and a string of other things.

He brings up the issue of the mass of Indian fathers of kids who have been taken away, been given up for adoption. Another legacy of residential schools – another way the dominant expropriate from the oppressed their children, their right to perpetuate their society.

A young woman started with “Bonjour!” and identified herself as an intergenerational survivor. Her aunt hated residential school so much that she wouldn’t speak a word of English for the rest of her life. The speaker was taken to foster homes and eventually to detention; her parents’ inability to parent. She married when she was 19 and quickly had three children. The marriage didn’t work out; she went home and, although she didn’t drink or do drugs, her children were taken away. Perhaps not all of them. Her son was returned to her after he had been physically abused and medevac’ed at the age of 3; he is brain damaged. “My parents had no voice when they were taken, I had no voice, and my children had no voice.”

The third was a 65 year-old woman who she thinks she’d like to go to school and upgrade her SW diploma into a degree. At 65, tuition is free. She had suffered enough sexual abuse I can’t remember it; she told the support worker, “Don’t touch me on the back, please.”

Another woman, a little younger, says she became the slut, whore, drunken drug user white guys expected her to be. She hated them, and still can’t figure out why they didn’t slap her silly when she insulted them in the bar. She began to figure out the residential school stuff only when she began to go through the IAP (Independent Adjudication Process). She is now in college, and loving it. She still owes her instructor the assignment she wasn’t able to address – What does it mean to you to be a Canadian? – but really appreciates instructors’ understanding of the life experience.

Then another middle-aged woman, quite possibly in poor health. Not sure. Hair covered in a hat. Her mother developed TB and went away for ten years, dying without coming home. Her dad sexually abused mother She too went through years of schooling without learning to read. It’s so embarrassing in a government office trying to find someone to help you fill out a form! She would steal fruit from the kitchen to share with other kids.

I think it was Mayor Iveson who pointed out that, when undergoing trauma, the brain is incapable of learning. No wonder these kids were illiterate, despite going to school. Wetaskiwin Mayor Bill Elliot talked about his 84 year-old father, a traumatized WWII veteran, going bonkers when fireworks went off unexpectedly. He had to be medicated for weeks after, to get back to normal. The traumatized mind so quickly relives and returns to the fear. Elliot says the survivors suffer from PTSD.

An old man, born in 1928 or so. He was taken to school in 1934. He was the only one I’ve heard this weekend who spoke of a happy memory: a nun who hugged him and his brother when they wept after their parents left them at the school. (Schools used to tell children their parents didn’t want them, and that was why they had abandoned them.) He switched from English to Cree and back, code-switching unselfconsciously.

A Metis dandy, head of his settlement, who arrived with his sister – both in their 70s, I’d say. He wore a beautiful ribbon shirt and Métis sash. He was sent to Grouard, and spoke of the abuse by older boys.

A man in his 40s, who came with his mother. His first memory is being in a swing in the kitchen, his father coming in and raping his mother right then and there. He had god and the devil in him; he could be loving but his mood switched with no anger, from happiness to fury. He was cruel, brutal. “But it wasn’t your fault, Mum,” he says to his mother, seated behind him. He knew his father had been to residential school, but didn’t understand what that meant until he went to Alkali Lake for rehabilitation work. A panel of 4 men and 1 woman spoke of the residential schools; he cried all the way home from Alkali Lake to Edmonton, understanding that his father had exercised on his kids what had been done to him in residential school. Sadly, his father had died months earlier. They were seven siblings. Each of his parents came from families of over ten children; he has over 100 first cousins.

Although he had signed up to speak at this session, he’d stayed in the audience until the end. He thought he was talking in a circle with a dozen others, not a dozen plus an audience of two hundred! (Joking was not uncommon.)

A younger woman who is Vice-Chief of the Saskatchewan Indian Federation. She’s an inter-generational survivor. Both parents went to residential school. They tried really hard to break the cycle, and did so by prohibiting alcohol and drugs. They went to Christian church on Sunday mornings, and went home to make soup for the sweat – in other words, kept up both spiritual traditions. I get the impression that there was physical brutality, perhaps assault, though – or maybe an absence of affection. When she finished speaking, her daughter (about 8) came to cuddle with her.

All have stories of humiliation, degradation, deprivation. All spoke of sexual abuse. That’s almost taken for granted.

All have been sober for years.

I begin to understand that this is just below the surface with everyone, all caused by the residential schools.

The Call to Gathering of the end of the day was a somewhat mixed bag. There were the usual Bentwood Box contributions – which I should take more seriously, as they are all pretty meaningful, deserved, and well thought-out. It just becomes a little formulaic after a while, though I’d love to see them on display, with their story next to them. Some seem self-servingly political, e.g. the Interim Police Commissioner, the Armed Forces, the U of A and other educational institutions. (The provost of U of A is proud they’ve made a residential school history course compulsory for BEd students. Shame it’s not for all programs! They’re the only university [in Alberta? Or the country?] with a Faculty of Native Studies.) Fact is, however, they’re all pretty deeply felt, as few get through their 3-minute presentation without choking up.

Interestingly, a couple that left people most impressed were from mayors. Bill Elliot, mayor of Wetaskiwin, has become close friends with people of Maskwacis (though he still tends to pronounce it “masskwachees”). Wetaskiwin now has welcome signs in English and in Cree syllabics at the entry to the city, and he’s got city council agreed on Residential School training. Plus, he got the council to approve making this the Year of Reconciliation. Calgary has since done the same thing, and so has Edmonton.

The mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson, is the one to get the most attention. He’s really young, handsome and charismatic. He can rapid-fire actions against all forms of racism, including institutional. Both mayors wept when relating to the removal of children and grandchildren – rather like Harper did. Among other plans, Iveson speaks of recreating sacred spaces along the rivers flowing through Edmonton. Great idea!

Both days, it’s really easy to find people to applaud, even to stand up for.

A Metis elder did the closing prayer. She incorporated Metis history, Batoche, and Louis Riel in her prayer. After the drum played the staffs and Commission out of the room, an elderly Métis fiddler played, and all were asked to stand through that.

Whenever someone is telling their story, there is someone at their side – just sitting there, rubbing their back or arm, accompanying, supplying tissue and water. Sometimes it’s someone they’ve brought along. Usually it’s a IRS Resolution  Health Support Worker.

All speakers acknowledge being on Treaty 6 Traditional Territory. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the land being recognized for its colonial status. It was said to be Prairie Cree territory, and I’d prefer that designation.

For reconciliation, story is necessary – and listeners are essential. This is something to point out regarding the importance of interviews. People love – need – to be listened to. This is what the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings are all about.

Every public (not private) setting, from the Commissioners’ Hearings to the Sharing Circles, set up someone telling their own story to a whole lot of listeners, most of them strangers. They really lay themselves on the line, open up, make themselves vulnerable. Listeners often cry along, especially when it gets really graphic, sexual or scatological. People try to listen without reacting too much. Listeners are grateful for the chance to learn. Story-tellers are grateful for the chance to be heard. I guess the big point is that, even if it doesn’t fix anything, it’s not secret any more. Most people kept this stuff under wraps for their whole lives; often their children knew nothing until after their deaths.

Each speaker in a Sharing Circle had 15 minutes with a large set of lights on the floor: green, yellow, red. Yellow came on after 12 minutes. None spoke with notes. All knew roughly where they wanted to go. There was some humor, but not a whole lot.

Many mentions of bullying, being picked on. “Gangs start in residential school.” Many mentions of being terrified, alone, with no comfort, punished for weeping and for not weeping. They speak of hunger. They spoke of being called or feeling stupid and dumb.

Someone in a sharing circle spoke of listening to the stories of others, perhaps as a counsellor. “I listen to their stories. Sometimes I want to cry with them, but I know I can’t, because I have to be there for them.” I took that to heart.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

It’s amazing how safe people feel in the Sharing Circle, how trusting they are. They feel that way even in an audience full of strangers. They are grateful to be heard.

There is project recovering residential school cemeteries, seeking the burials of kids who died. This is the Missing Children Program.

Gene Arcand spoke for the TRC Indian Residential School Survivor Committee. They provide the Commissioners with some pretty serious advice, and have a lot to say about government as well. They’re pretty prominent people, several academics. Among their complaints, the use of the $3000 education fund for each individual, and feeling that applicants for IAP and CEP were being short-changed.

He had a message about shame: The shame of survivors is carried by settlers, too. “You did nothing wrong, just as we did nothing wrong.” TRC Commissioners have paid a high personal price, particularly being away from their families. “Their families have suffered.” “The Commissioners are our Warriors.”

I heard a white person complain there was no daycare; heaven knows there should be, at an event like this. But I’d bet it’s deliberate. If there was ever a group that did not want children separated from their adults, this would be it!

AN2550 needs to be rearranged into ethnography, colonialism, Treaty 8, Indian Act, and residential schools. (The second and last both need more work.)

In his morning talk, Sinclair asked how the Residential Schools should be commemorated. September 11, November 11 are both noted with “Lest we forget” – never the idea that it should be in the past, bygones, etc. So, when and how?

Friendship Centres are to partner with the National Research Centre. I wonder if the College can contribute somehow.

Someone spoke of the need to teach The True History of Canada. That helps me see why school kids need to learn of the horrors of residential schools. Enough of the peacekeeping, settler Canada bullshit. I’m also led to wonder: if it weren’t for the residential schools, what would Canada be like? What would our relationship with First Nations be like? What would their communities be like? (Keep in mind that Grassy Narrows and the Sayisi Dene didn’t have them, at least not much.)

There was certainly no problem taking notes in Hall A. I didn’t take notes in the Sharing Circles, however, and it has been difficult remembering!

Honorary witnesses: it would be interesting to look them all up. Joe Clark was there Friday. Only Shelagh Rogers stayed the whole time.

Noticing the CBC ties: Shelagh, Wab, Wilson.

I learned a big lesson of my cultural biases. I was uncomfortable with some of the honors bestowed on prominent figures in Hall A, especially the “Honorary Witness” stuff. Gradually, I realize a couple of things. One is that this is kind of like Australian Aborigines (and Canadian First Nations) adopting outsiders to act as allies, advocates, spokespersons. The other is that it is not the individual who is being honored, but qualities or connections he or she represents. Similarly w/ Aboriginal Role Models or Indian Princess: the ideal is not that the person should be exalted, but that their actions or qualities should be celebrated or emulated.

Where was it that I was learning recently that ceremony is about cementing relationships? Not about celebrating occasions. If only I would learn!

Consequences of residential schools

  • illiteracy
  • incarceration
  • fear of touch
  • sex abuse – victims and perpetrators
  • children in the child welfare system
  • prostitution
  • violence
    • lateral violence – directed at one’s peers, rather than true adversaries
  • cruelty
  • gangs
  • eating disorders: deprivation and hunger, I’m sure resulting in binging and stuffing
  • institutionalization
    • TB hospitals (Charles Camsoe), foster families, orphanages, group homes, penitentiaries
    • the elders that go to work to help inmates have usually been there themselves
      • it’s where they’re comfortable
    • racism
      • practiced by Aboriginal against each other – lateral racism?
      • hatred of whites – guilt
      • teach Indigenous kids they’re worthless, while non-Indigenous are taught the same
    • repressed memory and pain – explosion

Monday, March 31, 2014

Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair says that it was education that got us into this mess, and education will get us out of it.

Reconciliation can’t be the burden of the victims.

Never forget.

Never again.

I’m wondering what’s become of all the residential school buildings: how many were torn down, burned down, repurposed for what. . .

Residential school was a form of incarceration, behind locks, behind bars.


Some online resources:

Residential school settlement offers $3K education credits: Common Experience Payment recipients can use them or give them to family members. (2014, January 24). CBCNews. Retrieved from

The Survivors’ Committee is rather angry with the federal government over this and other things. This money is left over from the CEP payments; they had expected it to go to communities to invest in culture and language training, not to be individually allocated.

Statistics on the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement: Information update on the Common Experience Payment
(From September 19, 2007 to December 31, 2013) (2014, January 20). Aboriginal affairs and northern development Canada. Retrieved from

Indian Residential Schools (2015, November 5). Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Retrieved from

Rogers, Shelagh (2014, March 29). Reflections on being an honorary witness for the TRC. CBC News: Aboriginal. Retrieved from

Ontario Provincial Advocate for Youth and Children (n.d.) Feathers of hope: A First Nations youth action plan. Retrieved from

New Tribe (2012, Spring). Retrieved from

Archivists of Alberta Roman Catholic Entities (2014, January). Roman Catholic Indian Residential Schools in Alberta. Catholic Archdiocese Edmonton. Retrieved from

The children remembered: Residential school archive project (n.d.) The United Church of Canada Archives. Retrieved from

Legacy of hope foundation (n.d.) Healing the legacy of the residential schools. Retrieved from

Historical sketch for Anglican residential schools (2014). Anglican Church of Canada: Mission and Justice Relationships. Retrieved from

Ottawa, Saturday, May 30, 2015

Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences: The first Big Thinker talk yesterday was by Justice Murray Sinclair. Cindy Blackstock introduced him. Her public talk is loud, militant, uncompromising. She spoke of our being on unceded Algonquin territory. This is a preface that needs to go in all public addresses, e.g. GPRC talks. What is the right term for being on Beaver land?

Some points from Sinclair:

In Inuvik there were two residential schools sharing a playground, one Anglican, one Catholic. The Inuit kids went to the former, the Dene to the latter. The schoolyard was a warzone (and Christianity served as another divisor between Indigenous peoples).

Sinclair played the videotape of Paul Voudrach, an Inuit man who accompanied the Commission. He spoke of horrific sexual abuse, of the destruction of his relationship with his parents, his siblings and, later, his children. The audience was in tears.

Those who signed the Treaties had certain expectations for the future of their children. Residential schools were demeaning from Day One, in the separation of children from their siblings, their clothing, their language. The system, which lasted for 125 years, affected six to seven generations of people, enough to result in the destruction of economic, political, social and ideological systems, the loss of faith in parents. Many spoke of their fear of cuddling children, because of the association of cuddling with sexual assault. Having stolen those generations resulted in stealing more, by child welfare, provincial care systems, the youth justice system, apprehension, adoption.

Schools had basically no academic curriculum until after WWII, and did not require teacher be qualified. Nevertheless, education is crucial to reconciliation. “Education got us into this mess, and we’ll use education to get us out of it.” The Idle No More movement represents youth taking up that challenge. It is the responsibility of us educators to support them in this. Colonization continues in education, with the underfunding of First Nations education. There is insistence on compulsory, accredited reconciliation through education at all levels, regarding residential schools but also all aspects of the Indigenous experience as well as language vitalization.

One weakness of the mandate of the TRC was that reconciliation was not defined. Initially, the churches and the government thought Aboriginals had to do all the reconciling. Their reconciliation does require forgiveness – of themselves and of others – and healing for their children.

The apologies of the federal gov’t and the churches are fine, but apologies must be memorialized, revived, recalled. Atonement and altered behavior are necessary. The churches must be explicit about their respect for Aboriginal spirituality, so people will not continue to suppress it in the belief it is not approved. It is the responsibility of the non-Aboriginal to inform themselves. As Blackstock says, Aboriginals must not be responsible for teaching us. The non-Aboriginal mythology of their ownsuperiority does not help them.


 Sunday, May 31, 2015

The TRC closing events set off with a Walk for Reconciliation from Victoria Island, down Wellington St., to the Ottawa City Hall. There were five to seven thousand people from across the country, including several groups of drummers. Plenty of people from Alberta, too!

A stage was set up in front of City Hall with lots of grassy area for people to stand in front. There were tents for craft sales and some food trucks, there for the duration. At every step, initiating every conversation, speakers made a big effort to express gratitude for being on unceded Algonquin territory.

Trick or Treaty was shown in a theatre in the National Art Gallery, followed by a conversation including film director Alanis Obomsawin (who was 82!), moderated by Commissioner Marie Wilson, joined by Chief Wilton Littlechild.

Most of the audience was Aboriginal. The exhilaration of these events is being in a roomful of people of the same mindset. To watch a documentary like this with people cheering, booing, “getting it” is so affirming! Part of the reason I sometimes feel so harsh and aggressive is because I’m so alone.

Inside City Hall was the installation of the Witness Blanket. I haven’t been able to locate the whole film on this, but there is a trailer here:

The actual Closing Event ceremonies and events were taking place at the Delta Hotel. Big and fancy, it was so delightful to see it jam-packed with Indigenous people and smelling of sweetgrass and cedar smudge! They filled up the lobby on the main floor, talking and hugging; occasionally a drum group would burst into round-dance songs.

In one huge room there were speeches, panel discussions, story-telling and presentations of people all day long. At the beginning and end of the day, flags and staffs are drummed and escorted in, then out. When the summary report was released, this was the room for big speeches, while many of us watched on TV from other places.

On the second floor were sofas for visiting, and on the third, a culture room for spiritual purposes, and another for survivors. A large room held historical materials, photos, documents and maps. And in still another space was the Walking with Our Sisters installation of moccasin vamps, representing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women. I think the public story gathering rooms were on the second floor, and the private rooms on the third.

There was an amazing atmosphere of welcome and emotional safety. People assumed alliance and friendship. I introduced myself to Premier Stephen Kakfwi (husband of Commissioner Wilson) just because I could, and he invited me to sit with him – to give him an excuse to sit. He was very happy to have found tea and honey! (He said he knew Joan Ryan, as did Chief Bill Erasmus, whom I met later.) Everywhere, when someone had a story to tell, when someone needed to talk, they were listened to with love.

As I wrote to a friend: The media seem to only show one aspect of the TRC closing event process (and this also applies to the hearings that came earlier). There is much more going on than sad story telling. As a matter of fact, during the Closing, I didn’t even attend sharing circles. I still heard stories on the news and saw videos, and heard comments spoken into microphones on the floor, and various other places. But the context in which they are told and shown is not communicated by the media. They’re not wrong, but…In the TRC setting, there is a very strong feeling of supportive listening. Supporters are often touching the person speaking (though I’ve seen this touch refused, as being too intrusive). There is an inner circle of story tellers, and outer circles of listeners who behave and feel much like witnesses. Health support workers circulate continuously with fresh tissues, paper bags for collecting used ones, glasses of water, etc.

This is the spirit that permeates the TRC events. Residential school survivors are explicitly honored, followed by those who suffered the consequences indirectly. They too can tell their stories. Everyone present is assumed to be either one of these, or to be witnesses and supporters. There is little to no posturing. As a result, the atmosphere is remarkably generous and accepting.

The presentation of the summary report consisted of speeches by the Commissioners, interspersed with videos of survivors talking. Very emotional, cathartic. Marie Wilson talked about children, especially the fact that stealing children – their removals – continue. Chief Wilton Littlechild Introduced himself by his Cree name, and it choked him. To him, it is essential that the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights be used to guide aspirations. Chief Phil Fontaine was important for getting this running, by coming out as a victim of residential school sexual abuse. Prime Minister Paul Martin was recognized for having pushed it. Prime Minister Joe Clark was there – he’s an honorary witness. So were lots of others, in the lobbies. Sheilagh Rogers too, and Thomas Mulcair. Not Justin Trudeau.

Justice Murray Sinclair is very insistent that cultural genocide was practiced against Aboriginal peoples. I prefer “ethnocide,” but that’s a term few are familiar with. Supreme Court Justice Bev McLaughlin recently used the C.G. term, so it’s the winner.

It was capped off by a Buffy Sainte-Marie concert in front of Ottawa City Hall, in the bright sunshine. A wonderful and joyous ending for the TRC!

Only later did I begin to note the absence of a political or economic analysis, a power analysis. There’s lots of racist analysis – that Euro-Canadians think themselves so superior to Indians that their culture must be wiped out, and their children’s deaths can be ignored. The reason it is important for people today to understand the residential schools legacy is that it is doing no favor to Whites to allow them to think they’re superior, any more than it is helpful to allow others to think they’re inferior. But the benefits accruing to whites are not mentioned: that the residential schools, along with so many other strategies, allowed whites to be enriched at the expense of Indigenous people. There are many jokes along these lines, having to do w/ religion: They told us to close our eyes, fold our hands and bow our heads, and when we looked up, they’d taken all the land! They left us the bible or the cross, and they took the land. Etc.

WATCH: Highlights from opening speeches of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [Video file]. (2015, June 2). Retrieved from (3:27 min.)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada.

TRC videos


Keeping the past alive

            I’m grateful to Ed Bader for alerting me to a legacy pole being raised in Haida Gwaii. Designed and carved by Jaalen Edenshaw, his brother Gwaii and team, it went up in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to mark the twentieth anniversary of the agreement between the Haida Nation and the government of Canada to co-manage the Park. It honors those who took part in the 1985 Haida blockade to prevent the logging of Lyell Island, which resulted in Gwaii Haanas. Videos and articles link from It’s the first such pole erected in Gwaii Haanas in 130 years, perhaps because most residents left the island after villages were destroyed by epidemics.

            I skyped with Pamela in Chile for a good while yesterday. Her granddaughter commented on how much she learned about the coup d’état this September 11, the fortieth anniversary. When I was in Chile this year, I was pleasantly shocked to hear government employees speak of “la dictadura” rather than “el gobierno militar” (“the dicatatorship” rather than “the military government”) – a little concerned for their jobs! Pamela says there is more freedom to bring up memories in casual conversation than there was, that people no longer fear being attacked or starting an argument when they bring it up; they can speak their minds.

            As an example, she mentioned Ecos del desierto, a television miniseries. (I watched the entire four-hour series last night, for fear it would be withdrawn from Youtube before I could get back to it!)  It dramatizes the Caravana de la Muerte – the Caravan of Death – an army task force that toured northern Chile in the months after the coup, summarily executing prisoners, claiming they were trying to escape. (They were shot, left to lie or buried in the Atacama desert, many later exhumed and dumped into the Pacific.) In documentary style, it follows the research and findings of the widow of one of the victims over the next 35-plus years, repeating and recapitulating crucial moments, adding a bit more information each time, through the 2000s. Getting the whole story out is cathartic.

             I recently listened to an interview on CBC radio with a Chinese artist (not Ai Weiwei, I don’t believe). He spoke of how the laws and history of China change at the government’s whim, that what is true and conventional one day can lead to one’s detention the next. Grandparents are implored not to share with their grandchildren, who could get in trouble for repeating stories at school. It is so stressful to try to preserve the stories and memories, guarding against speaking them at the wrong time or in the wrong company. 

South America: Mostly confidence and hope



Towns and landscapes








Archeological sites

Museums, monuments and churches

Politics and society


Between April 25 and July 4, 2013, I travelled from Punta Arenas, Chile to Cartagena, Colombia. I flew across most of Chile because I was already familiar with it, but took buses for most of the rest. The scenery was dramatic enough to keep my eyes wide open; I wished all were day trips. I’m so glad so much life happens out of doors, where I could see it! Better still was listening to them and reading about them, learning about their perception of the events that have affected their lives. Of course I went to many museums for the concentrated and even idealized view of “who we are,” but mostly I just walked the streets. The further north I moved, the more likely people were to identify me not as North American or Canadian, but as Chilean or Argentine, because of the way I speak Spanish.

I am impressed by the pride and optimism I found, especially in the northern countries. People in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia believe politicians need not be corrupt or stupid, that governments can accomplish a great deal, and that they can’t be forced to submit to the giant banks, corporations, or governments of the world. These are attitudes seldom seen elsewhere!

I’ve loosely organized my thoughts and perceptions into topics, and have done the same with my photographs. For each topic or set of topics, there is a link to an online album of my photos; for each bolded term there is at least one image. I suggest google images or videos when I think these are particularly impressive. At the end of each section is a list of further references.




Towns and landscapes

            Pictures speak louder than words, so I’ll use more of the former than of the latter. The itinerary is in this order:

–       Punta Arenas, Chile

–       Isla Riesco, Chile

–       Puerto Natales, Chile

–       El Calafate, Argentina

–       Estancia Ruben Aike, Argentina

–       Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

–       Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia. (2013, 8 de mayo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 12:54, mayo 14, 2013 desde

–       Santiago, Chile

–       La Paz, Bolivia. With the help of lots of coca-leaf tea, I avoided soroche, altitude sickness. It was a bit breathtaking climbing up every hill and staircase I walked down, and there are plenty of both! Plane circles around the valley La Paz is in – flying over huge plain, then sharp drop off. Buildings spill down the hillside.

–       Copacabana, Bolivia. Lighting is brilliant! Clear air, bright sunshine! Visited Isla del Sol – Island of the Sun. Gorgeous hillsides and agricultural terraces at least a thousand years old. Cold! Down to freezing at night. Copacabana is a port on Lake Titicaca. On the beach are all sorts of recreational water craft piloted or rented out by locals: pedal swans, cylinders, kayaks, and many launches going to Isla del Sol. There’s a nice costanera walkway along the shore, and decent food booths. A couple of bar/coffee shops on the corner of the busiest street draw in the American kids.

–       Puno, Peru. Pretty much the same altitude. It’s warm in the daytime! My landlady tried to convince me it’s normal to wear a winter coat indoors, but I refused to agree. To stay in bed under a feather duvet is acceptable. Loved the Islas Flotantes – floating islands.

–       Cuzco, Peru. Lots of pre-hispanic and colonial remains. Also lots of street processions in celebration of Corpus Christi. The scale, ingenuity and beauty of the indigenous architecture, the weaving, the development of a form of religion that is Roman Catholic Plus, the community distinctions (intra and inter) by textile, use of fireworks and processions, marching bands, marketing by women, maintenance of language, all were reminiscent of Oaxaca.

–       Lima, Peru. The ocean, museums, downtown, a lovely hostel. Larcomar, which is a shopping center. Downtown Lima is colonials, and the gracious neighborhood of Pueblo Libre has parks and trees and barmen behind wooden bars.

–       Trujillo, Peru. A lovely Plaza de Armas, a couple of big sets of burial mounds and acres of Chan Chan.

–       Chiclayo, Peru. More archeological sites. All this pretty much desert.

–       Cuenca, Ecuador. Bisected by a lovely river, paralleled by a great walking/biking path. Museums and the beautiful ceramics of Eduardo Vega. Currency is the U.S. dollar. It takes a while to stop trying to convert!

–       Quito, Ecuador. Colonial centre of town. Museums, the plaza full of preachers contradicting each other on Sunday afternoons, and an expedition to the Mitad del Mundo – half of the earth. I just had to go to the Equator, didn’t I? Quicentro commercial centre is a different world.

–       Bogotá, Colombia. Candelaria neighborhood of universities, students, bookstores, museums, government buildings, pedestrian walks, lots of life. (Colombia is also the land of safe-to-drink tap water and good WiFi.) Industrial outskirts.

–       Manizales, Colombia. Twisty, windy roads along ridges, through coffee country, beautiful views without snow. There seem to be no city maps – perhaps because the city consists of patches of settlement scattered on the more level sections of valleys and hilltops. What does a map do with an expanse of empty vertical hillside? Alternatively, how does a two-dimensional map portray streets that are almost stacked on top of each other?

–       Medellín, Colombia. Recently recognized as Innovative City of the Year for such things as cable cars and escalators linking neighborhoods clinging to hillsides to the cleanest Metro system (above-ground light rail transit) I’ve ever seen.

–       Cartagena, Colombia. Returning to Caribbean humid heat, which I haven’t experienced for four months, since Central America. Carriages drawn by horses clopping through the street late at night.


–       It’s Colombia, not Columbia:,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.48572450,d.dmg&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=5EzSUe6YFNKv4APu6IHwBw#facrc=_&imgdii=_&×


I admired people standing in long, orderly lines on the sidewalk in La Paz, waiting for micros. That’s not how it used to be, said driver Rolando. People would just mob a micro (a large van) that drove up; it was a question of survival of the strongest. Recently, the municipality created the Guardia Municipal de Transporte to issue traffic tickets and make people line up. They also make sure colectivo drivers charge only approved rates. Not everyone likes it, especially drivers who have to pay tickets. These Guardias aren’t corrupt like the police, he says; faced by the latter, offer them a peso or two to leave you alone.

Lima has a slick Metropolitano system, a network of double-jointed buses that run down the center of avenues, stopping at specific stations whose doors match with bus doors, though they’re not on a rail or a tram. It uses a chip card. Quito’s Ecovía is much the same, but one pays in cash – U.S. $0.25. On the train, people were really kind to me. One man gave me a pointed look, which led me to look at another, who was offering me his seat. He later held a phone conversation in English!

A microbus in Lima probably seats thirty passengers. The buses are cramped and jump along suddenly (reminding me of the old Punta Arenas term, “liebres” – hares), so if you’re standing, hang on! But they do get there and, at least outside rush hour, are pretty humane. “Rush hour” starts at about 7 p.m. And, unlike Chile, businesses don’t close over lunch hour. They really work a long day here! But most stores don’t open until 10 a.m.

There’s an obvious code for bus seating. Younger people stand for elders, and everyone gets up for pregnant women and those with infants. Interestingly, there weren’t too many of either one. Must be an urban area! The most astounding character is the driver’s assistant. He jumps out of the bus at every stop and hollers the route, including such information as “¡Hay asientos!” (There are seats!) He tells the driver when to stop to let people off, banging on the side of the bus as needed, and in the midst of all this, collects fares periodically, remembering who hasn’t paid and how much they owe. It requires strength, agility, acute alertness, multitasking, nerves of steel. No wonder they chew gum like madmen!

I tried to figure out the traffic rules in Lima.The first is to stop as seldom as possible. For example, if a car in front of yours brakes for a turn, immediately brake and switch lanes. Soon, the braking is transferred laterally, across a multilane highway. Secondly, even painted lane dividers are just a suggestion of how many cars can fit in, across. Anywhere you can nose your way in, do. Whether of people or cars, one-at-a-time queues are respected (e.g. at the grocery store); once they become several across, forget it.

My favorite parts of the expedition to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (“Half the World City” on the Equator, in Quito, Ecuador) were the hike way up to the top of the Centro Histórico to catch the Metrobus and the one-hour bus trip each way. These are big buses. I got to sit the whole way, as it was Sunday. People get onto the bus through one of three doors, and it seems the bus ayudante (assistant) is able to keep track of who has paid, collecting at some point during the trip – not necessarily when getting on or off! The bus route on the highway skirts the top of the city, heading north. Much of it is through housing of very ordinary construction, some is through lovely green eucalyptus forest, and there are some beautiful condominium developments.

Attitudes regarding taxis are ambivalent. I seldom met a taxi driver who did not warn me about other drivers. They’re infamous for robberies, kidnappings, and extorsion. Never take a cab on the street, always have the hotel or restaurant supply you with a trusted taxi, take down their taxi or license plate number, etc. Alternatively – official taxis at the airport are always safe, etc. Hard to say; they treated me well.

Manizales has buzetas, smallish upscale buses with a seat for each passenger (not allowed to have them standing), but with little legroom. (I couldn’t face forward!) Air conditioned, I think. Regular, larger “buses” are much more crowded, run somewhat different routes, and are probably a lot cheaper. The busetas never look full; a ride costs $1500 Cop, or about $0.75.

Getting around Medellín is great fun. I got on the Metro B to San Javier, and onto the Metrocable from there to Estación La Aurora. The Metro is an above-ground LRT system, in two great long lines. There are two Metrocable lines feeding off these. The newest goes uphill from Estación San Javier, and I do mean up. It has to be, to make a cable-car system worthwhile! The cable cars hold ten people each, and go through at the rate of about one a minute. The views both up and down are spectacular. No wonder tourists are encouraged to use them – though their primary purpose is to make it easier for people from poorer neighborhoods – and they do get poorer with altitude – to get down to the Metro line and thus move around town. The Metrocable and Metro stations, lines and cars are spotless. Soft music plays. The Metrocable line that branches off Metro A from Estación Acevedo, goes to La Esperanza, linking to another line up to a park, requiring extra payment. It’s a bit older, but still great.

I travelled both Metro and Metrocable lines, not quite all the way, in about two hours. I couldn’t leave the stations, but could get out and walk around and look about. It cost $1,500 Cop, about $0.80. I don’t suppose that’s totally cheap in local terms, but not bad.

Metro images:,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.48572450,d.dmQ&biw=1024&bih=475&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=es-419&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=Kn_PUeryHI_r0QG4ooCYDQ#facrc=0%3Bmetro%20medellin%20dentro&imgrc=_

Metrocable images:,or.r_qf.&biw=1024&bih=475&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=es-419&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=mX_PUdSyL7S30QHTioHQBA

An lot of Colombian women of all ages ride motorcycles, often with other women on the back. (And it’s not illegal for men to ride on the back of bikes, either.)



At the Plaza de Armas in Santiago, Chile was Clara, making and selling horse-hair weavings (artesanía en crin). She’d just been caught dozing. She’d been up all night at the wake of a good friend who had the newspaper stand next door. The women had breakfast, lunch and coffee together for years. For an idea of horse-hair weaving, see

Leal, Paula and Tromben, Manuela, producers (n.d.) Women weaving with horsehair: Rari, Chile.

Women on sheep ranches (estancias) in Patagonia are ideally placed to gather, clean, card, spin, and weave or knit their own wool, should they be so inclined. Andie of Estancia Skyring has her own studio/retreat for just that purpose! Her brother, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, is a carver of wood (and bone!). There’s an autobiography of David Cartwright Compton at Their mother’s mother used her skills as a botanical illustrator to support her children!

Elise is the mother of one of my schoolmates, whom I’ve known since 1960. It’s great to see how she and Peggy watch out for each other without getting in each other’s hair! When I visited, Elise wore a sweater that matched almost perfectly the table covering she’d cross-stitched in wool!

At Estancia Ruben-Aike in Argentina, Mario does some wonderful leatherwork, making horse tack and knife handles by braiding strips of goat hide. He buys the goat skins cured, and then cuts them into very thin strips, 1/8” at most. As many as 72 strips are then interwoven. It is gorgeous, very precise work. He attends the livestock shows in Buenos Aires to learn from exhibitors, and in turn wins prizes at heritage festivals with his own work. All over Central and South America, I’ve run across Argentines selling their woven waxed-thread work to support themselves.

Knitting and crocheting are very widely practiced in South America. On Las Rosas street in Santiago are many wool stores, bursting with women. Many are taking classes, learning particular stitches and methods from a designated teacher, getting out of the house and meeting with friends. By later in the afternoon, a lot of the women vendors of La Paz, Bolivia are knitting and crocheting in the streets. Shawls are often crocheted by hand in very fancy stitches, usually neutral colors. They also make gloves and hats of all shapes and styles. How I’d love to be able to photograph the hats and shawls, and their knitting! But it’s pretty apparent they don’t really want to have any more to do with me than is necessary.

An aguayo is a rectangular woven cloth worn on the back, usually by women, and used as a coat, a backpack, to carry small children, on the ground as a spread to sit on or eat off of, etc. I loved watching three people in La Paz going through beautiful weavings. One man had them on his lap and went through them systematically while a couple made comments. They didn’t see me, and I didn’t interrupt them. I don’t know who was buying and who was selling.,or.r_qf.&biw=1280&bih=899&bvm=pv.xjs.s.en_US.c75bKy5EQ0A.O&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=drHpUeORHaazyAHqjoD4AQ

I had a good laugh with a market women in Copacabana, Bolivia, who sold containers made from used car tires – planters, watering troughs, etc. I thought it great recycling, and she was delighted that I paid her for the photo!

Each family on the Uro floating islands sells some crafts and keeps the proceeds. They all sell pretty much the same items, so when I saw one woman doing embroidery herself, I just had to buy a couple of pieces from her. They also sell to souvenir shops in the area of Puno, Peru.

Although much activity on the floating islands is organized in a cooperative fashion, gondola building is not. Gondolas are catamarans, a double version of the traditional reed boat (caballito de totora), with a structure built on top to look somewhat like one imagines Egyptian barges, usually with a panther head woven of reeds on the prow. (Traditionally, they had a sail.) Methods and techniques are being refined. The reed cylinders are filled with thousands of plastic bottles! It takes a couple of months to make each one. Residents of an island pool their funds and order a gondola which, when full of tourists, is poled around the island. Proceeds are shared. This enterprise was developed probably within the last decade.

The ceramic bulls of Pucara are famous. Bull-fighting is still practiced in Peru, and the story is that the original bull of Pucara was forced to snort chili, driving him nuts. This, in ceramic form, became a symbol of family and household protection, perched on the peak of practically all roofs!

Catholicism provides the stimulus for a great deal of craft production. In Cuzco, Peru is the Arte e Imaginería Aller. Its owner, Aller Arellano Majad Arons, makes figures of rice flour, and others of coated fabric. The young clerk at the store told me the story of Manuelito de la Espina (Manuelito of the Thorn). He was one of many street urchins. People got angry because he wasn’t doing anything productive, so they tried to capture him. As they chased him, they’d be just about to grab him and he’d disappear, springing up just a little further on, just a little smaller. Finally, he jumped into a cactus patch. He was later found in a church, crying piteously, trying to remove the thorn from his bleeding foot. The little dolls are just gorgeous, with beautifully delicate faces. Each has a tiny mirror inside his mouth to keep dust out, the clerk said!

When I walked into the Tienda y Museo Textil on the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, the sight and smells of stacks and stacks of old, hand-woven, woolen textiles left me speechless. The store was tended by a middle-aged man whose eightyish mother, Josefina Olivera Rendón, collected the pieces at the urging of her mother and aunt. “Gente del campo” (rural people) were getting rid of them, discarding and burning them, in exchange for industrial products. The weaving is not being done much any longer, and no one is raising the alpacas or llamas for their own use. She’s become quite famous for her collection and sales, interviewed by magazines and photographed with Mick Jagger! Josefina’s son would like to sell his stock and open a museum with five or six hundred really high quality pieces they have.

On Avenida del Sol is the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cuzco. A vital force there is Nilda Cañallaupa, responsible for reviving much of it. She helped form the foundation that runs this rather spectacular center. (No photos allowed!)

In Bolivia and Peru are tons of knitted garments for sale, almost all supposedly made of baby alpaca. (There can’t possibly be that many baby alpacas in the world!) Twice I was taken by a tour guide to a “textile workshop”, in each case, actually a store. First, we were made to feel the difference between alpaca and sheep’s wool, then alpaca and acrylic, with baby alpaca being especially prized. Kind of interesting, but I still can’t tell the difference except by burning.

Different substances are used for washing the dirty wool. Quinoa (kinwa) and sakta both produce suds and quickly whiten wool. I was skeptical about quinoa, but then was reminded that the bitter flavor which must be leached out of unprocessed quinoa is caused by saponin, a natural soap.

We were shown several natural dye sources. The most dramatic (as in Oaxaca) was cochineal. We were also shown some weaving techniques. In neither case was there much for sale in the store using either the dyeing or weaving techniques, but one was making contributions from profits to support women who do use them. (I was grateful for the mate de coca they had ready to serve.)

I was surprised to find cochineal in both Peru and Mexico, grown on the same nopal / tuna cactus pads. One site claims cochineal originated in Peru and was used there three centuries before it was traded to Mexico, twelve hundred years ago. I can’t see his evidence, though I’m willing to believe trade was taking place. (The problem is absence of archeological evidence.)

I was pleased to find arpilleras are still being made in Peru, and kept my purchases down to one! (These are images appliquéd in fabric collages. They depict scenes from life: the market, the farm, the home, the street demonstration.) The vendor at the Mercado Indio in Lima was Elena. She asked many questions about me, and cautioned me a great deal about being robbed while in the city!

At the same craft market, the Mercado Indio, I became familiar with Tablas de Sarhua. These are scenes (in the style of 16th Century Quechua chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala) engraved onto beams or boards used in the construction of the home of a new family, depicting their genealogy and the activities of family members. This pinterest board is a good one:

A workshop in Cuenca, Ecuador, made items from recycled copper. The metal comes from houses renewing their water systems, vehicles, refrigerators, etc. Father, son and uncle cut open pipes, reheat, hammer out thin, enamel, reshape. They used to work only in silver, but it became too expensive. They also make chain mail and wire replicas of balconies!

Carlos Bustos has worked for forty years doing tinwork, Mexican-style. When it’s chilly, he sits outside his shop in his car until a customer – like me – appears.

Cuenca is also the place where Panama hats are made. (The name originated with someone who didn’t know his geography.) The Panama Hat Museum (or one of them, anyway) is really just a hat factory open to the public, with some older machinery: hat moulds, hat shapes, presses, etc.

The “paño de Gualaceo”, also called “ikat,” is one of the more unique Cuenca rebozos (shawls), woven and finished in macramé. What’s unique is the tie-dying of the yarn used in weaving, so it makes repetitive and recognizable figures. The paño is from this region; the “ikat” is a Malaysian term, meaning tie-dyed.

Also in Cuenca – but on the new side – is the Mirador Turi, overlooking the whole city. Very near the top is the Taller / Galería Eduardo Vega. He’s a wonderful ceramist, born in Cuenca in 1938. He does three-dimensional pieces as well as tiles. This is what I couldn’t resist: the one of Las Bordadoras (“The embroiderers” of skirts, part of the regional dress). And they allow photographs!

In Bogotá, Colombia I saw many young people – men at least as much as women – carrying woven or knitted bags over their shoulders. They’re in natural colors with geometric designs, and made of natural fibers.,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.49967636,d.cGE&biw=1241&bih=593&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=8jz4UYskhp-IAuOXgfgG

Further references:

Phipps, Elena (January 1, 2010). Tracing cochineal through the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Retrieved July 26, 2013 from

Phipps, Elena (January 10, 2010). Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color. Montreal Museum of Art.


This time in Punta Arenas, Chile, I was able to stay in the Barrio Croata (Croatian neighborhood), which used to be the Barrio Yugoeslavo until Yugoslavia disintegrated. There is a certain kind of architecture that is characteristic of that neighborhood in particular, and I’d long wanted to experience living in one of those houses. They’re built right up to the sidewalk, with the front door and windows opening over it. The houses are symmetrical, with the door in the center and one window on each side. A central corridor runs from the front door down the center of the house, with bedrooms on each side and a kitchen at the back. Lots are deep, extending way back into the middle of the block, leaving lots of room for a vegetable garden. The houses are built of wood frame, and the outside shell is made of sheets of tin over wood planks. The roof is corrugated tin, often red, and the sides and trim any of a number of colors. My fondness for them is due to the trust and friendliness they imply; neighbors going by can holler in through windows open for fresh air in the morning, and carpets and bedding hang over the windowsill. Lying in bed, I could listen to people going by in the street, or stopping for a conversation or a quick kiss.

I continue to be very fond of the individualized self-construction of which most of Punta Arenas consists. Perhaps that fondness was created by living there. There are houses built of brick, big cement block, wood covered w/ tin, rounded modernistic concrete, the tudor framed style – so many different ones. Some cookie-cutter housing developments exist, but nothing like the proportion in western Canada. Even the main cemetery is like that. Each plot is designed individually and differently. New cemeteries, on the other hand, have name plates flush with the ground. (Much of this applies to the rest of South America as well.)

In total contrast, Helen lives on the eighth floor of a brand new apartment building in Ñuñoa, Santiago, a city of six million, surrounded by glittering buildings that are as tall or taller. These views are beautiful, too!

Houses on estancias (sheep ranches) allow for all sorts of self-expression and inventiveness. They change with family size, fuel and electricity, the availability of materials and workmen, full- and part-time residence, etc. At Estancia Skyring, for example, Gerald and Andie decided to expand on what had been the manager’s small house rather than live in the big house his parents had occupied. They added several bedrooms onto the smaller house for their children, heating the master bedroom, kitchen, living and dining room, and keeping banks of window panes that look out into the garden. “This house is full of history,” says Andie, every picture and object with a story.

Nearby, Estancia Dinah is also in a wooded area and uses wood for heating. The house was originally a puesto (a shepherds’ shack), added onto as it was affordable. Thus, wings and rooms were tacked on in all directions. It’s hard to heat, as air doesn’t flow from one area to the next; stoves require feeding every twenty minutes, and when all three are burning, it’s busy! Propane fuels a generator that comes on at about five p.m. and off at nine, and back on for a few hours in the morning. There are kerosene lamps in the bedrooms. Floors are somewhat uneven, as different parts of the house have settled at different rates.

Still, it’s great to have those different spaces, all of which have nice windows and views out over pampa, pines, and a great flower garden surrounded by a very high windbreak made of logs. In the morning, flocks of Patagonian parakeets arrive for mountain ash and other berries in the garden. There are black birds and thrushes, too.

The décore is quite English. I love the heavy flowered cotton upholstery. Walls are yellow, with picture frame panels. There are English and Patagonian landscape paintings, and lots of porcelain, stone, brass and copper bowls, ornaments and trophies. Built-in painted plain wood carpentry is everywhere, solid and functional.

Given the long summer days in Patagonia, gardens can be successful, but with lots of wind, low precipitation and cool temperatures, they often aren’t. People love having a bit of a glassed-in porch (like Cathy’s!), a sunroom or a windowsill for growing a few geraniums, ferns and Christmas cactus.

Quinchos are more common in Argentina than in Chile: an open (or well-ventilated) area separate from the house for asados (grills – roasting meat), accommodating lots of guests without messing up or smelling up the house.

One form of housing I didn’t think had existed for a century is the Cárcel de San Pedro, a prison in La Paz, Bolivia. Spouses and children live there with convicts. Prisoners rent their living quarters, of greater or lesser comfort depending on their means. They run the place, have a complex economic system providing all imaginable goods and services, elect their own government, and set their own laws. I became aware of it because of a meningitis scare. There was a proposal to evacuate the 250 children who live in San Pedro with their parents, to keep them in quarantine, house them in a hostel or with foster families, and there is now a plan to close down the century-old the complex. This will require careful negotiations with inmate residents!

Almost all of La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia are built of red brick. (Unlike Calgary, for example, it’s not because acres of housing were constructed by the same developer, but because everyone uses the same building material.) Adobe used to be most common, but the clay ran scarce and, simultaneously, manufactured bricks became plentiful and cheap. Tan adobe is still common on the outskirts of town and in rural areas.  However, it’s easy to see why brick is winning out. Adobe has to be capped –with straw and boards, or tin sheeting, or at the very least plywood – so rain doesn’t wash it away. Bricks don’t present that problem. A lot of brick structures are only partially built; it isn’t ruined when the project pauses. Adobe bricks are made by hand, often dried in the yard where the construction is happening.

Only a few outbuildings are thatched with straw, though that appears to once have been the common roofing material. Many adobe buildings are missing roofs, which probably caved in. Almost all roofs are now metal. They probably require less effort and upkeep than straw. Employment for income – e.g. to buy a metal roof – reduces the “free” time available for unpaid labor – e.g. caring for thatched roofs. The proportion of tile roofs increases w/ proximity to Cuzco, where they’re compulsory for historical purposes.

The floating islands (islas flotantes) of the Uru (Uro) are made by cutting squares of reeds (totora, junco) and roots from the lake floor and lashing them together so the roots will mesh. Before long, that creates a solid, floating platform or raft which grows reeds. Reeds harvested elsewhere are piled on top, constantly, as those on the bottom are crushed and rot away. The end effect is that of a straw mattress. For conversation, we sprawled around just as a group would on an enormous water bed. The one-room shelters are placed on wooden platforms on the surface of the island, so they can be lifted and placed atop fresh reeds. Three to ten nuclear families share an island. They cook on two-burner clay braziers that have an opening in the front for wood to be placed in. They’re on stone platforms to avoid burning down the island. I’d have liked to see one in action.

Under the totora mats on roofs, I could see some metal roofs, and these are used on all public buildings, e.g. schools and meeting places. There are no real stores, but there are store/boats that travel from island to island. A few homes have solar panels. They boil water for drinking, and I just had to tell them of solar plastic bottle purification!

It’s about a fifteen-minute motorboat ride from the dock in Puno to the edge of the totora or junco reeds. A control point was set up there, supervised by one Uru man and two women. They collected the fees for tourists entering the area. There is a series of floating islands, I’m not sure how many (at least a score). Each has its own president, and they hold a council. I believe there’s an overall president as well, but it sounds more like a council gov’t. Tourism is the main source of revenue, and pretty carefully controlled. It’s also organized in a way to share the benefits pretty well.

The islands are visited by tourist boats on a rotating basis; a couple of managers make sure this is respected. Each boat visits the “capital island” of Utama which has a restaurant and snack bar. Lodgings are provided there as well. The revenues from the tour boats are shared with everyone; each island owns a large gondola on which they take visitors for another ride at extra cost, and the revenue from that is for the island alone.

The presence of tourists is carefully choreographed. We were welcomed onto the island and seated in a semi-circle, on rolls of reeds. With the assistance of residents, our own tour guide (brought from Puno – a graduate from the Universidad de Puno in tourism and languages) gave us the lecture on the people and the islands. While zoo-like, it didn’t feel terribly uncomfortable, as it was so clear we were being managed. At the end of his talk, the women (all but one man were out fishing or harvesting totora) took a group of tourists to their one-room houses. Then some people went on the gondola ride, while others of us hung around.

It took me quite a while to catch onto the fact that these “floating islands” haven’t existed all that long, apparently only since the 1990s when their lakeshore villages were flooded. I remember photos of reed boats from anthropology books, and they always spent a lot of time on the water. This business of creating islands is new, however, probably somebody’s smart solution to avoiding trespassing, squatting, real estate costs and taxes. They obviously don’t farm (though there are some bushes and marigolds!), but do fish. They barter reed-weaving, embroidery, fish and cut reeds for some of what they need. The proceeds from tourists buy staple foods and pay kids’ school costs.

Travelling through the countryside of Bolivia and Peru, I suddenly realized there were no chimneys. I asked our bus attendant Cristina about that; nope, they just don’t use anything that requires a chimney. There are no heaters; a few people have electric ones. And why no TV antennas? Because cable TV doesn’t require them!

Although I’ve come to think of eucalyptus as rather a nuisance, consuming a great deal of water, driving out native vegetation, in the Andean countries at least it is seen very favourably. It was first brought in the mid-1800s to prevent soil erosion, and eucalyptus forests now cover huge areas where other trees have been logged off. It’s really popular and appreciated for fuel and for construction.

On the outskirts of Cuzco, adobe houses seemed awfully insecure, sitting on steep inclines made of the same mud as they are. Around Puno, it was fairly clear that new housing was being built on old Quechua agricultural terraces. It might be a good rule of thumb: don’t build where the ancestors didn’t think it worthwhile!  Leaving Lima, are miles and miles of two storey buildings made of cement blocks. (The commuting time is unimaginable.) Beyond them, houses seem literally built into the hillside, which is nothing but sand. How can they possibly withstand rain? “Pueblos jóvenes” (“young towns”) refers to shanty towns, initially squatter settlements, that have sprung up as a result of newcomers’ need for housing. Great photos and discussion can be found at The very last dwellings in town are wall-to-wall plywood shacks.

Small houses /shacks are strung along the dry coast of northern Peru. Totora reeds are tied together to make panels (tabiques) which are fastened to a framework of poles and plastered with mud. This is called “quincha,” and is practical because of earthquake resistance – flexible and light – somewhat insulated, cheap, comfortable, breathable. In the past, foundations and the lower part of the walls of the largest one-storey buildings were often of stone, with quincha and tabique roofs completing them.

There are plenty of large new houses in the hilly regions outside of Cuenca, Ecuador. Built of brick and cement block, multi-storeyed, they stand on hillsides, usually empty, alone and vulnerable. They have beautiful views, no neighbors, and no neighborhood. The U.S. economic crisis prevents the return of the Ecuadorian expats who built them. Anywhere else (?), they’d be narco houses, ostentatious and empty.

Further references:

Islas flotantes de los uros. (2013, 9 de marzo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:39, junio 5, 2013 desde

Moraga, Nelson (Junio 12, 2013). Las Islas Flotantes de los Uros en el Lago Titicaca; ciudad de aguas. Retreieved July 24, 2013 from;_ciudad_de_aguas


Oh, there were some wonderful empanadas in Patagonia! The first I had were at Estancia Skyring, where the fellow who cooks for the men makes them every Sunday. Fried empanadas with a very tasty meaty filling! The next empanada feast was in the quincho of Armando and Marta in El Calafate, Argentina. These also were fried, the filling using as much lamb meat as onion, thickened with gelatin, mixing in paprika but no cumin, a few raisins and a green olive. We were there with Anne and Mario’s family; Gastón advocated an icing sugar garnish. (I’ve never been able to face that!)

And we used the baked empanadas of the kitchen awarded the “Mejores Empanadas” prize by the municipality of Puerto Natales as travel food. Not as luscious as the previous ones, not fresh-out-of-the fryer, but just great!

There were countless versions of filled pastries all over South America, few of which I tried. On the Copacabana side of Tiquino, Bolivia, I did have a tucumana, an empanada filled with tasty potatoes and hard boiled egg. After breaking it open, I could add hot sauce, peanut sauce, and chopped cucumber – all delicious.

I’d never had pavlova before Cathy made it for us in Punta Arenas. I’ve got to try making it myself! Maybe for Brian’s birthday!

Chilote cuisine has become common and popular. I loved my chicken cazuela, bread and pebre at Raíces de Chiloé, in Natales. At the Mercado Chilote in Punta Arenas, they serve sopaipillas with pebre to begin every meal. Pebre is a mixture of chopped onion, tomato, garlic and herbs. Sopaipillas are a fried bread, usually with squash puré added in. (Sopaipillas can also be eaten sweet, in a syrup made with chancaca – unrefined sugar.)

Wonderful olives are produced in the area between Santiago and Valparaíso, Chile. We visited an olive farm and processor. They had big blue barrels of olives cured in different ways. Those soaked in lijía (lye, or wood ash) have a more firm texture than those cured in soda, but both were really tasty, lacking the bitter or excessively salty flavors of many olives. Delicious.

One of the most common foods at restaurants around Lake Titicaca is “trucha” – farmed trout. These were first brought in from Canada in the 1940s. From Argentina came pejerrey – kingfish – Odontesthes bonariensis. I don’t believe these are farmed.

It’s a great area for fishing rainbow trout, too!

Special sweets are sold streetside in La Paz, Bolivia, for Corpus Christi. Women come into the city from Sucre just to sell their products on this holiday. They were pretty sure I wasn’t buying anything, but were still willing to give me a sample and an answer or two. Roscas are circles of dough – hard like pretzels – dipped in royal icing. Fideos are the shape of canelloni, but are actually sweet dough, dusted with icing sugar. There were walnuts, salted peanuts, and peanuts in brown and red shells.

On tarps and sacks, by the road and on rooftops, were small, dark round things; sometimes, people were stomping on them. These were potatoes being frozen and dried to make chuño. Maize, both yellow and white, is dried in a similar way.

It wasn’t until we were very near Cuzco that I saw any agricultural machinery at all – indeed any machinery, period. On the way to Puno I remember seeing some three-wheeled motorcycles pulling utility trailers, but none since. In short, everything is done manually: I have seen threshing, scything, piling into conical stacks, dehydrating maize and potatoes. There is seldom a herd of sheep, guanacos, alpacas or cattle not accompanied by a human, except where ranches are really large and have wire fences. Women are often the tenders, and use a whip to move the livestock. This reminds me of walking a dog – walking the livestock. They often sit on the ground while the animals feed. No wonder so many skirts are needed! The ground is cold!

Although I was ignorant of it, I first began to hear great things about Peruvian cuisine in Punta Arenas.

Peruvian cuisine. (2013, July 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:54, July 24, 2013, from

In Lima, I had to appropriate a restaurant menu to look up the dishes to learn what they are. (It’s amazingly difficult to talk about food when ingredients and methods are unfamiliar, and a different vocabulary is used for the familiar!) Tiradito is thinly sliced fish, marinated in lemon etc. Tequeños are cheese fingers deep-fried in wonton wrappers. Chupe de pescado sounds really delicious:  Sudado is fish poached w/ tomatoes, onion, etc. Parihuela is another fish soup. Tacu tacu is rice & beans accompanied by a protein. In a causa, a tasty filling of chicken, fish or vegetables is wrapped in (or sandwiched between) a layer of flavored, mashed potato. See, though I like it best with a yellow sauce:

Chifas, or Chinese restaurants, are very common in the Andes. My “menú fijo”  lunch included wonton soup (2 wontons and a piece of chicken and lots of spaghetti noodles in broth, w/ some green onion), and a main course of pork and vegetables with chaufa – fried rice. (In Bolivia, fried rice is a “calentado,” which one can order with a fried egg on top!) The pork was very salty and rather tough, sort of like bacon. The vegetables are OK. Not my favorite meal; glad I tried it. I should have completed the experiment by having an Inca Cola. Again, something I haven’t tried, perhaps because of its pale yellow color, and I don’t much like pop anyway.

And, by the way, Peruvians don’t seem to do sweet.

Likely the most interesting dish I encountered was in Cusco on the first day of Corpus Christi. On the street, a woman had set up shop with a table and cooker, and I realized I was looking at roasted cuy (guinea pigs), estofado de cuy, cuy sausage, cornflour cakes, Andean cheese, chicken (which I didn’t try), cooked, roasted broadbeans and more. I had a small sampling of the whole thing, and then realized it was chiri’uchu, that special dish for today – the Inca dish that was to include foods from each part of the Empire.,or.r_qf.&biw=1280&bih=899&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=pfryUdncM8L_rQGApICgDg

Had a nice lunch at Yola’s, in Cusco. It was just a nice, ordinary restaurant where I had palta a la reina (avocado with chicken salad – really nice avocado) – and seco de cordero con arroz y frejol, i.e. lamb stew with white beans. Quite good.

I’m still puzzling out the origins of plants I think of as Mexican and North American, and was surprised to find in South America – where several of them originated, and were traded north. There is, of course, the nopal – or tuna, as it is called in the south – on which the cochineal grows. In Mexico, the nopal pad (rid of thorns) is eaten either cooked or raw in a salad; in Peru, the fruit (prickly pear) is eaten. (I think they’re from the same plant.) In Mexico, the maguey or agave azul is used to make mescal; not in the south. Algarrobo (mesquite) is in both areas, used to make flour, I believe. The wood also has various uses. Chiles appear to have originated in Bolivia, though various domesticates were developed in Mexico. And I can’t help but wonder why cacao didn’t make it south, or potatoes north. Which beans originated where?

Street food in Cuenca, Ecuador was great fun. A pretty common combination is “pan de yuca y yogur” – a cassava bun with cheese filling, with delicious Greek yogurt. One I couldn’t fit in was grilled banana with cheese. Perhaps it was displaced by the mouth-watering roasted pig, sold at stands at the market. It comes with a bit of skin, on some lettuce and onion, with huge white corn kernels and duchess potatoes. Was it good!

In Quito, humitas are often served here for a light supper: they’re made from fresh-ground corn when it’s young enough to be sweet, and steamed in banana or maize leaves. It’s a muffin equivalent; a common offer is humita + coffee for $1.50. Tamales are similar, but salty. Mixed in with the fluffy corn mix are pieces of olive, egg, etc. Locro de papa is a thick potato soup, colored yellow probably with chile amarillo. In it also goes a slice of mild cheese (like bocconcino) and a slice of palta.

As in Mexico months ago, one of the most appreciated treats was a container of fresh fruit – in Bogotá, a mango and guayaba cup. Only salt is available to go on the fruit – which is fine, but I did miss Mexico’s lemon juice and chile. A woman in downtown Bogotá sold packages of dismembered big black ants. Eat them like peanuts, she says. I didn’t (unlike chapulines)! I also looked at obleas, which are thin wafers, rather like communion wafers (said the salesman). They’re about 8” in diameter. They can be spread or sprinkled with one or all of arequipe (dulce de leche, manjar blanco, cajete), cheese (I think it’s a very mild cheese; they also put it in hot chocolate. Haven’t had the nerve to try that, either!), blueberry jam, and chopped peanuts. Another wafer goes on top. But I did eat ajíaco bogotano, the city’s specialty. It’s a thick, tasty soup w/ potato and corn (both used as thickener and in pieces) and lots of shredded chicken. It needed a bit of spicing up, and there was a salsa on the side. On a separate plate were a third of a really large avocado, a big scoop of rice, and a fried plantain. Really good, really filling. I had it at La cucharita colombiana.

In Manizales I had an arepa de chocolo – or, rather, de chócolo. The restaurant lacked the accent, so I couldn’t figure out what on earth “chocolo” was. It’s corn kernels. This was a corn patty or pancake (grind corn, add salt, sugar, grated swiss cheese, milk and baking powder, fry in a little oil), in my case w/ some soft cheese on top. They brought me honey to pour over that. It’s pretty good.

I didn’t try too many beverages. I’m always happy to find dark roast coffee, so love the take-out coffee at Santiago’s airport and Juan Valdez in Ecuador and Colombia. Appreciated the Chilean wine in tetrapacks, as it’s good for travel.

However, I was most grateful for the mate de coca – coca tea. The leaves soften up in hot water. The hotels in La Paz and Copacabana had a fresh supply with hot water for newly arriving visitors, and the tea quickly counteracts soroche (or sorojchi – altitude sickness), which often results in dizziness, headache, racing heart, fatigue, nausea. The coca leaves go great in my travel mug, which strains out the leaves before swallowing, and I can keep the drink going all night, plus travel with it all day. I bought my own stash of leaves as soon as I could. provides a great account of a tourist chewing coca and drinking coca tea, as I did.

Further references:

Quinoa. (2013, June 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:28, June 12, 2013, from

Amaranth – May grain of the month (n.d.). In Whole grains council. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from

National Research Council. Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1989. Retrieved July 28, 2013 from


In Patagonia, lots of women today wear what they would have worn fifty years ago: knee-length skirt, cardigan over short-sleeved sweater, knee length wool coat, knitted hat on head, shoes w/ slight heel. So do men: jeans, hand-knitted wool sweater w/ turtleneck, sports jacket or winter jacket. Wool tocque.

A tall man in the heeled boots, the poncho and the flat-brimmed huaso hat of Central Chile is amazingly attractive.

Hats make the woman in the Altiplano, too. In La Paz, whether bowlers or crocheted cylinders (rather like a fez), they’re small, perched way on top of the head. A hatmaker tells me keeping them on is an art. Some of the bowler hats are only slightly shorter than tall hats. Straw hats and crocheted hats can be made in the same shape. He gets the blanks from Argentina, presses them on special moulds and sews on ribbon trim. He’s done it all his life. His son, about 8, sat in the booth stitching jeans by hand – in training? Fascinating article:

Villanueve Rance, Amaru (June 28, 2013). Bowler: sombrero de la paceña. Port magazine. Retrieved July 22, 2013 from

Chinchero women’s hats are shallow, with a cross design on the crown of the head and a rolled brim. I asked one woman to explain them; she said they’re all symbolic of community and family. I then noticed hers was somewhat different from others; that’s because they also identify social status, i.e. Inca nobility. She being the one different, was nobility, I gather. I didn’t know that nobility would still be recognized; she didn’t want to elaborate. The hats in Rajchi are conical and embroidered. Some worn in Cuzco look like an embroidered cloth has been placed over a board. Oh, to understand the meaning of women’s hats!

In La Paz, skirts are multi-layered, heavily pleated, and colorful. Stores carry racks of shiny satin skirts. Torsos are also covered with many layers. The top layer is a large shawl or cape, knitted or a myriad of crocheted medallions linked together. They’re about the size of our throws or afghans. (In Cuzco, those same fringed wool blankets are wrapped around the hips to become wool skirts, over trousers.) Folded in half, the folded corners are pinned in front of the chest. The back is well-covered, the hands free. It’s not easy to tell the relationship between the volume of clothing and of the body. Plumpness can only be estimated by a quick glimpse of ankle or neck.

Indigenous women wear flat, slip-on shoes, like slippers or ballet shoes. They move quickly, constantly trotting up and down hills. Mestiza women wear heels! Mestizo men wear shoes that get polished often. The shoe-shiners are young men, who sit on curbs or low benches with shoe platforms in front of them. Their occupational uniform is a face-covering balaclava.

The skirt of indigenous women in Quito is almost ankle-length and straight, really a length of fabric wrapped around the body and held up by a colorful faja. The short-sleeved blouse is embroidered. A few women wear a shawl folded on top of the head; many wear sweaters. Shoes are low heeled and black. Most wear just one braid, not the two linked at the back as in the Sierra. They wear their shawls covering the chest.

As was explained by a market vendor, the skirts worn by women of communities in the Cuenca region are of stretch velvet, some of duffle. They’re pleated, with an embroidered hem. Whether it’s edged in VVVVS or scallops is an indicator of community. To do the hand embroidery, the hem is faced with checked gingham and with newspaper to hold it stiff. Only afterwards is the hem cut. Some communities are identified by a subtle, small embroidery; others, much larger. Beads and sequins are often included, attached with lengths of colored thread on the inside of the hem. The weighted hem creates a heavy and very graceful skirt that swings with every step.

There is also a really stiff, reinforced yoke at the waist, and often a horizontal fold to shorten the skirt. It can be removed. The side seams are open to about 7” below the waistband to allow for expansion. A wide ribbon is stitched into the waistline on the front, and another on the back. These are tied together at the sides to fit the wearer, pregnant or whatever! Before purchase, skirts are tightly bundled into tubes with a thread going through each of the pleats at hem and at waist. That’s cut to open it out.

I mostly saw women in sweaters, but the costume features a short-sleeved blouse, traditionally embroidered. The final piece is a rebozo, often variegated to start with, and with really fancy embroidered and/or crocheted or macramé additions at each end. To attend a wedding, women will go without a lot to buy an outfit!

Indigenous women wear simple variations of this every day, and all cuencanas wear them for special occasions. At the fiestas de pueblo, guests are stuffed with food: a thick soup, then beans and corn, then meat, then chicken. “You have to eat as much as you can!” says the market woman. If you’re a madrina, you’re likely to be sent home with huge pots of food. That’s hosts’ way of showing their care for you (and their wealth).

Years ago, “our grandfathers” used to carry heavy loads on their backs like women do, wrapped in aguayos/awayos or mantas. Diagonally-opposed corners are tied together over the load, the load is swung onto the back, then the other two corners are tied around the chest. (More modern men carry heavy loads on one shoulder – or at least, that’s how cab drivers carry my suitcase over a rough sidewalk. That’s hard to watch, for a block or so, especially if uphill!)

It was easy for me to feel comfortable in Lima, foreign but not strange. The Miraflores area is very prosperous and new, with everyone in modern dress. Lima definitely consists of urban mestizos. No cholos or Indians here, at least where I’ve been. I’ve seen one woman with a braid – one braid! Everyone else in skirts, shirts, blue jeans, heels, short hair, and absolutely no one knitting in public. No mantas, and no babies on the back. Similarly, I couldn’t see ethnically distinct clothing in Chiclayo, Perú. And by the time I reached Medellín, Colombia, standard outfits included skin-tight leggings, lots of cleavage in tops, and glittery flip-flops! Guys look pretty ordinary.


It’s interesting to see the sexual aggression of women, especially in Patagonia. In public places, e.g. restaurants and the like, they are often the ones staring into their partner’s eyes, caressing, stroking, initiating kissing – behavior I usually associate w/ Latin men. Is this emancipation or an indicator of men’s superior earning power?

This is completely different from La Paz and all of the Altiplano, where I saw no public necking by couples at all – except by tourists. There’s was no visible sex tourism, in fact very little mixing of foreigners and locals.

There were many warnings about pickpockets and muggings in La Paz. That had me somewhat nervous, especially about withdrawing money from ATMs, but I never actually experienced anything threatening. I did notice that no one carried or used cameras or cell phones in the street.

There’s a whole lot of life happens in the street, women with their children, people sleeping, eating all the time. I saw a man relieving himself on the street outside the hostel: Las Aromas street, ironically! A man must be really desperate to squat at a curb in public, with cars and people going by.

I went into a store to look around. Usually, the store attendant immediately follows a person in. This time, a woman sat occupying the whole doorway. She had a bowl of water, and washed her hands and face, drying them with her apron. Then she took out a small mirror to do the last primping. I hesitated, as I wasn’t sure she’d seen me, but then realized she was not going to be embarrassed by me, so I stepped over her.

People seriously duck, scramble and stop in their tracks to stay out of a photograph. I haven’t seen anyone but tourists using a camera. The museums were full of kids, but none took photos; few museums even allow it. I was very glad to find a couple of great picture books today. Like in the Pueblos of the American Southwest, even in art, people are usually portrayed from the back, if at all.

I snuck a few more pictures elsewhere. Kids on the beaches of Copacabana are darling, partly because they’re all hatted against the sun. One 2 or 3-year old had her sweater tied around her shoulders such that her stuffed bear was held just as a baby in a manta on her mother’s back would be! How soon we learn to imitate!

I heard applause outside the door of the Copacabana Cathedral. Some people gathered outside as others emerged. “A wedding!” I thought. A circle was formed, and everyone took turns hugging all those in the receiving line and dumping confetti over their heads, but I could see no bride. It turned out to be a woman who’s just earned her architect’s degree and her relatives. A sign clearly forbids “mistura” (confetti), but as a guard commented to others, that’s just how it’s done here, and you can’t stop tradition.

One of the best parts of travelling by bus is the chance to see people going about their lives, walking, working, playing, sitting and talking. It was remarkable how often couples went about their tasks together. From the motorboat travelling up the shore of Isla del Sol, frequently I could see people (usually women) herding sheep or llamas. They also raise pigs and burros. They worked on the terraces, which are used to grow a couple of types of potatoes, two or three types of quinoa, several kinds of corn and broad beans. Women washed clothes (mantas, rectangular pieces of woven textile in various colors), laying them out to dry on the beach, on fences or on bushes.

At the Uro island, we were hosted by one young man and half a dozen women. He asked me some questions, so I sat down (lay down) with him, three women and a couple of kids so we could exchange questions and answers. He was not at all in charge of this group! (To the contrary; he was being scolded by one of the women for not going fishing with the rest of the men.) I asked about bowler hats – which do fall off – and about braid holders (bonbones). These are braid extensions or weights that hold a woman’s braids behind her back rather than swinging around and getting in the way. The color of the bonbón indicates the woman’s marital status. Black means married, yellow means not. They wanted to know about my work, salary, children, marital status, and religion. I said I earn a lot, but have to work a lot – and that it’s very unfair I can come here but they can’t go there. All I had to give them was some gum and mints.

The women are quite used to being with tourists, and do seem to be curious. They asked if I’d seen photos of them elsewhere, if they were famous. Of course! There was very much a feeling of exchange between us; they were glad I’d given them candy and gum, as I hadn’t bought anything from them. And they seem to have accepted the indignity of being photographed, for the benefits it brings in terms of increased cash from tourists.

El Octavo de Corpus Christi (the eighth day of Corpus Christi) was being celebrated in Cuzco. I found a second-storey Starbucks, drank coffee and took some photos out the window. There were crowds of people on steps of the Cathedral platform. Saints’ images were carried around the Plaza de Armas on the shoulders of  bearers; musicians wore matching outfits. (The procession of Saints may be a modern version of the precolonial procession of Inka mummies. There is a complex series of events in which the effigies, each from its home church, are brought in procession to the Cathedral, where they spend the week of Corpus Christi together. At the end of the week, they say goodbye to each other and are carried back home. What I was seeing came from the latter end of the ceremonies.)

When San Sebastián was being returned to his church, it required the presence of numerous dancing groups and their respective bands. It’s amazing how many people are involved! A lot of these were dressed in “Native Indian” costumes. Much money goes into the outfits, matching shoes, etc., and much time goes into choreography and practice. The procession slowly moves down street, and I just wish they got a lot more applause. The men perform energetic dances with lots of leaping, alternating with a quieter step. Older men are more skilled; little kids get applause. The girls are separate, and their steps involve a lot of hip motion and swinging to move skirts. Longer crinolines are used by some; really short ones over shorts are used by others. There’s a good deal of cleavage and bare skin. It’s wonderful stuff. Identification of people w/ their church, neighborhood and saint is apparently really strong. Many apply to form part of the bands and dance groups, but not all are accepted. Tourists were thrilled. I tend to get a bit irritated with them, as their cameras give them the “right” to stand in the middle of the street, blocking participants and spectators.

June is Cuzco’s month, as Corpus Christi is followed by San Juan and Inti Raymi, then San Pedro and San Pablo. Thousands of people with their work groups and school groups parade before authorities. Many were dressed in cultural costumes – crinolines, ponchos, etc. Some danced. Most carried banners. The anthropologists wore suits!

I’m amazed at how many hairdressers, barbers, tailors, laundries and shoe shiners there are. I expect that, like cooking meals, it’s less expensive to buy goods and services from those who have the equipment and produce them in large quantities than to do it oneself – especially for people who put in very long hours making what someone else needs.

Five prisoners escaped custody. Two were associated with an armed robbery. Three were involved in the assassination of journalist Luis Wong. After appearing at a courtroom, they apparently changed into women’s clothing, and left through an administration area. Police are thought to have been involved; several are suspended. Two of the assassins were killed by police in a shootout a week or so later.

There is a parking lot in downtown Cuenca where men gather to await labor recruiters and swarm any vehicle that drives in. Unemployment must be significant. A man stretched out his blankets and made himself a bed on the sidewalk across the street from my hostel room in Quito, against the wall of the gymnasium. The street lights were bright enough to read by. I wondered why he picked that spot, and whether police would allow him to stay. Was he avoiding being mugged? The further north I went, the more common it was to see men passed out on city sidewalks.

Although I entered plenty of churches, I couldn’t bring myself to look around very much. Photography is generally not allowed, and people seem very devout, crossing themselves frequently and curtsying on the way in, and when passing by. There were usually many people, men and women, praying on their own.

I’m not sure why, but particularly on the highway from Trujillo to Chiclayo, what I most noticed was trash. Landfills are not over the hill and out of sight, nor is garbage dumped into a hole in the ground. Instead, there are acres of trash piles scattered across the countryside to blow away. It’s awful.

I asked at tourist information in Chiclayo why there were so many money changers on the street; they seem to be constantly counting thick bundles of currency. It was explained that one can shave off the service fees by not going to the bank, and a lot of people receive remittances from abroad. There is a lot of “dirty money” around, and there would be questions asked (or at least a record) if one went to the bank frequently or with a great deal of cash.

I’ve been caught several times by holidays where I’ve been visiting, e.g. Labor Day, Corpus Christi, Inti Raymi, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Peter/Saint Paul, sometimes limiting my movement (or meals!).  I think it was surprising to me because, in Canada, we recognize almost no religious holidays. My ethnocentrism: if I don’t observe it, it doesn’t exist. A couple of middle-class Colombians complained that people are demanding more statutory holidays in the year, when there are already 18-20. I too thought that was a bit much, until I realized that workers only have one day off a week!

At the museum of the Dominican cloistered nuns of Santa Catalina (Museo Monacal Santa Catalina de Siena) in Quito, I was escorted by a serious young man who knew all his liturgy and church history. Like the museum of the nunnery in Cuenca – Concepta – this one included items for dressing small images of saints, the Virgin, Jesus and for creating nativity scenes. Adults like to play dolls. Shops in Cuenca sell sweet European baby boy dolls of all sizes and many outfits to choose from, in brilliant colors, embroidery, sequins, beads, little shoes, for altars and processions, I assume.

Funny how we’re fascinated by miniatures. The convent guide said that, in their homes, most people now have a nativity scene (huge and complex scenarios, bringing in elements from all over the world) as well as a Christmas tree – one religious, the other secular. Apparently we’re also fascinated by human remains. The body of a President assassinated in 1875 was hidden in the Santa Catalina convent until 1975, and they still have some of his possessions, including a bone. A femur, I think.

On Sundays, Quito’s Plaza Grande is a place to practice and enjoy oratory. A whole lot of it is religious, mostly evangelical. Preachers heckle each other. The biggest crowd was drawn by a street theatre group. I couldn’t find out what they were about, however, because whenever I was nearby they were asking for money or challenging the vendors (who move in to take advantage of a crowd) to stick around to clean up the plaza. One man proclaimed that Hugo Chávez lives in all of us. I wish I had more nerve for taking photos of people! Indigenous women wore sparkly blouses. Pairs of older men visited quietly. Lots of pololeos – courting couples. There were more Afro-Ecuadorians around than usual, selling coconut water. This is an ethnic specialization; a part-time job on Sundays.

In Bolivia and Peru, Chola women carry babies in a manta (aguayo) on their backs (  Urban and mestizo women (i.e. not chola) do not. They carry them on their hip or in front. City women put their baby in a stroller w/ a plastic window, distancing themselves from the child. Tourists push the VW bug-sized strollers. Indigenous women in Ecuador use a large square cloth to tie in their babies. The baby is placed on the woman’s back, tied on tightly with the top two corners of the sheet. The bottom two corners wrap around the mother’s body and tie under the kid’s bum. Mestizos carry the baby wrapped in blankets in front of their bodies, using both hands.

Further references:

Bolivian Express is an interesting English-language publication, online, edited by Villanueve.

Celebración del Corpus Christi en el Cuzco. (2013, 20 de marzo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 02:51, junio 9, 2013 desde


We did not like the dogs in Punta Arenas, although we were initially amused at the pack roaming around the Plaza de Armas on Labor Day, May 1. A holiday, there were almost no other people around. The dogs weren’t at all threatening until one jumped onto the bench between us. From then on, they surrounded us, quarrelling with each other, deciding who would own us. We crossed the street to a Carabinero (policeman) who had his own dog, and thus broke contact. No wonder Puntarenenses joke that you have to get permission from the dogs to go to the Plaza now! In fact, there are packs all over town, and I’d beware of wandering in deserted areas.

I do so enjoy the wildlife of Patagonia. It’s a thrill to see flamingo shades of pink and black in lagoons in the windy pampas of the south – and then in Bolivia as well! I thought of condors in the mountains, the Andes, further north, but now find they’re quite common down south as well. I remember the black-necked swans with their red beaks in the waters near Puerto Natales from years ago – still delightful. Plenty of vultures and small eagles and other birds of prey are on fence posts and in the air. Ubiquitous are the ostriches – ñandúes or avestruces. On the continental grasslands, every other lump is an ostrich, but not on Tierra del Fuego! The rest are sheep and guanacos. Guanacos are as common as deer at dusk in Alberta, definitely not endangered, definitely graceful. They compete with the sheep. Along the shoreline are cormorants, grebes, gulls, and ducks w/ orange bills and feet.

There are lots of sheep, grass and fences. We faced a large sheep drive on our way to Isla Riesco – a wide river of them, bounding towards us. They were accompanied by three horsemen, I think, with a sheepdog each. One dog fought his way through the fence wires, madly scrambling to get back to work. Then there was a huge herd of cattle, again being driven towards us. One cowboy led them and several brought up the rear. Beautiful polled Herefords. The grass looks rich. Fences along the roads are sturdy, 5-6 rows of wire, tight and tall.

We had the treat of one spectacular morning on the Straits of Magellan. We drove south with the sun shining from behind our backs, as it always must, all the way to Fuerte Bulnes. When we saw splashing in the water, we stopped to watch dolphins hunting. It was so calm, clear and quiet it hurt.

Moving north through South America, there were burros, goats, sheep and pigs. Oxen pull plows in some areas. The milk and meat of cattle must make them the most valuable livestock, because they displace all other animals whenever possible. However, llama herds increase in size at the higher altitudes to which they’re adapted. (They’re the descendants of guanacos!)

Lama Guanicoe. Retrieved May 16, 2013 from


Archeological sites

I’d forgotten the Cueva del Milodón was a site of prehistoric human occupation as well as the cave where milodon remains were found. Some twenty kilometers from Puerto Natales, the landscape is dramatic, broad plains (once ocean bottom) ringed by bluffs and snowy mountains, the autumn foliage up the hillsides in varied shades of green, orange, yellow and red. The cave is huge, befuddling the senses. It reminds me of a huge hockey arena, where those on the opposite side look much smaller than one thinks they should because sound carries so well. The large boulders scattered outside, the Silla del Diablo and the hill into which the Cueva is inserted, were all made by compression of rock under the ocean, with some layers of sand. The ocean then removed the layer of sand inside the hill, leaving the cave to be inhabited by milodon and humans.

Cueva del Milodón Natural Monument. (2013, March 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:15, July 31, 2013, from

There is a great deal for me to learn about South American agricultural and water management systems. The chinampas of central Mexico come to mind first, created by digging up lakebed sediment and shaping it into islands of fertile soil. An entire landscape can be an archeological site. In South America, agriculture and the modification of land forms and water flow has gone on so long and so extensively that evidence of these human activities is everywhere.

Camellones (waru waru) might be called raised beds or raised earth platforms and could be as much as 4 meters across. They were used, for example, in regions of northern Colombia and also around Lake Titicaca. (Still are, somewhat.) Channels are dug perpendicular to or fanning out from rivers, creating island strips between them (the camellones). Water fills the channels, and aquatic plants and animals (fish) growing between islands help with water purification and fertilization. Plants on the raised beds grow down (to get to water) rather than out, so take less space, making less room for weeds and more room for crops. The water between beds also reduces crawling insects. When waters recede, the sediment is dug out to add onto the islands. Currently, northern Colombia suffers from destructive yearly floods (rather like the Canadian prairies); in the past, the water spread out in an organized fashion and irrigated more land without flooding the islands on which people lived and cultivated. This method makes use of high water rather than fighting it. See the video El tejido del agua about the Zenú water management system, at

Qochas are naturally-occurring or man-made depressions in the highlands, lagoons that collect rainwater. Their sides are cultivated as water recedes.

Many of these systems, the infrastructure, knowledge and labor organization required to maintain them were abandoned with Spanish colonization and population loss. Bringing them back into use requires some caution; productive land must be re-allocated to either communal or family tenure, with regard to the organization of labor needed to bring it back into production. (See references below.)

As we got near Lake Titicaca, most hillsides were terraced, and dividing lines (stone walls) cut vertically across the terraces. Some terraces have been in use for centuries. They manage water as much as slope.

The trip up to Cha’llapampa and back followed the shore of Isla del Sol, on Lake Titicaca. Often it was plain rocky but terraces were built wherever feasible many centuries ago – as far back as 1500 BC, said the guide. Terraces are cultivated for four years, then “we, the community” leave them fallow for seven years prior to replanting, using different slopes each time. The containing walls are built of angular basalt rock (I think) that tends to hold itself in place. Large rocks are placed on the sloped bedrock, gravel on that, and soil on top of that, until level. I expect that fields are allocated by the community in such a way that everyone has access to the products of different solar exposures, precipitation and altitudes. The labor to maintain terrace walls and the archeological site of Chincana would have to be shared communally as well.

Guided by a community employee, we took a long walk from the boat landing, passing through the village and by people’s back yards. Then we were beyond the cultivated area and walking through rock. It was pretty strenuous, with not as much time for stopping, looking and photographing as I’d have liked. There were lots of views overlooking the water and other islands, and to snow-capped mountains further away.             We stepped in the Footsteps of the Sun, and saw the Puma de Piedra and medicine wheels before reaching Chincana, a multi-roomed structure built of stone walls, a temple, and some dwellings. The whole Island of the Sun seems carefully guarded by its communities. Entry fees are charged, and the presence of outsiders is fairly carefully monitored, restricted to certain hours; I don’t think it would be possible to get away with a lot of vandalism. Our guide spoke some of Aymara/Tiwanaku spirituality, of Inti Raymi ceremonies on June 21, the sacrifice of a llama, etc. He made it clear the Inca were intruders who weren’t here for long.

Isla del Sol. (2013, February 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:49, July 24, 2013, from

On the bus trip from Puno to Lima, Peru, the best stop was at the archeological site of Raqchi. It’s Inca, though the site was inhabited previous to the empire. It has a huge temple (to Viracocha, it’s said) with a dividing wall down the center. This was originally 15m. high, and eleven great big pillars run in a line parallel to each side of that (twenty-two in total). The base of all of these, a good metre high, is basalt blocks; adobe brick tops that for the many meters more. One of the pillars survives intact. The center wall is now sheltered by metal roofing so it doesn’t disintegrate. Through the wall are windows and doors; some of the latter look keyhole shaped to me, while the windows are trapezoidal. Beyond the temple are six courtyards surrounded by “apartments” (as they’re apparently domestic areas) with six niches on the long wall of each. Sometimes the courtyards have piles of basalt rock; recovered rock, perhaps? There are more walled structures along one side, and outside that, the bases of at least twenty cylindrical silos. Some of these have been reconstructed – and it’s not clear how much.

The steps up and down, the compartments, the parallel long building all reminded me of Teotihuacán. Outside the reconstructed part are huge piles of basalt blocks. This took me back to Hawaii. Given all this construction material close at hand, it makes perfect sense to have a trade, storage and ceremonial center here. (Why isn’t the stone used in the region now, other than to build fences?) Seems to me there are also some water works involved here.

Sacsayhuamán is a gigantic set of terraces on top of a hill, a great place from which to observe Cusco. Carbon dating pretty much fixes the sites in the 1400s, so it’s  definitely Inca; the effort that went into the meticulous stone work also confirms that it was for imperial purposes, perhaps religious, not just secular. Thousands of people attend Inti Raymi ceremonies on the great open field below the terraces. Tourists are all over the site.

Saksaywaman. (2013, June 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:08, July 26, 2013, from

We also went to Tambomachay, a place of lovely running water on top of another hill on the outskirts of Cusco. The guide states that the flow of water never increases with rain or decreases with drought; they don’t know how it gets up there, or where it comes from.

The Chinchero archeological remains are on a hill, as usual, the rooms and terraces overlooking great agricultural land, with mountains in the distance.  The guide made a couple of really good observations. For one, the Inca built their large-scale works in places where agriculture would not be good – i.e. atop steep hillsides. Secondly, they did not bring in all the stone; they made use of what was there and often modified it on the spot without moving it at all. (On this, he referred in particular to the 30 ton monstrosity at Sacsayhuamán [here pronounced Sacseyhuamán].) Smaller ones are moved but no further than necessary. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the construction site weren’t chosen because of rock available, in part.) He also thinks there’s no such thing as the “Temple to the Moon” or “Temple to the Sun.” These names were made up by guidebooks, he figures. Worship of the Sun and the Moon was so obvious, significant and universal that to restrict their observance to particular places would make no sense (rather like a Christian “Temple to God”.) Instead, temples were places where icons, artifacts and mummies could be kept and cared for.

We went to the Catholic Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Monserrat, built on the foundation of an Inca temple (for a change). It’s lovely inside, ornate and artistic. Seated on benches on the way into the church was a little girl, all in white, who was being baptised. I asked permission for a photo, but an older woman (Grandma?) said I’d have to pay! $20! Too much, I said, and walked on. The priest approached the church, took a photo of a tourist couple for them, went in, and came back out. At least four tour groups were in the church at that time. I wondered whether the locals ever have the place to themselves. We and all the other tour groups walked all over the village, whose streets are mostly too narrow for cars. The streets run up and down and crosswise, are paved w/ paving stones, and have a drainage ditch going down the center. I’d love to know whether this is colonial!

Also in the Sacred Valley of the Incas (so it is said), in the Cusco vicinity, is the breathtaking, inspiring site of Ollantaytambo, many terraces high. The views and surrounding mountains constantly change with the light. The salesladies did a brisk trade in rain ponchos when we first arrived, convincing people it would be more than just a sprinkle, which it wasn’t. Both here and at Chinchero, the terraces (3-4 m. wide) overlook a large plaza. (I was kind of surprised it hadn’t been appropriated for a soccer field in Chinchero, being right by the church!) At Ollantaytambo, the plaza was far wider, an enormous amphitheater. (Or so it appears to me, although we’re told terraces were used for gardening.) There was evidence of modification to lots of boulders in situ, one with steps cut into it, going to a rough boulder top. This ceremonial center had not been finished when the Spanish came. (I’d be surprised if anything was actually “finished,” because the Inca were only in power for a century or so. And most monuments are works in progress.)

There are some features adopted from Tiwanaku. One was huge rectangular sheets of rock propped upright, with slim rock jams wedged between them. The jams are one of several methods of earthquake proofing. Each rock sheet rubs against the small ones which take the shock, rather than directly on another sheet. Then there’s the inward tilt of walls, propping each other up. Stones are sometimes fitted together by interlocking hollows and protuberances, but I don’t know if that’s always the case. Whether the face of the rock wall is ground flat or each rock is ground into a pillow shape, the uniformity achieved is amazing. There are also projections left on the outside of some building blocks; the guide says no one knows why.  Niches are a feature of many walls, and they could well have held statuary or something. It is also thought they release some of the energy from earthquakes, by creating irregularities in the surface to break the force. Doors and windows are wider at the bottom than at the top for greater stability.

Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Between Lima and Trujillo I spotted a number of roadside ruins. It’s one of those “This looks like a good place for. . . Oh yeah, sure enough!” Blocks of adobe brick. This far north, where it’s so dry, there’s no need to cap an adobe wall. Rains are very infrequent. El Niño hits about once every 12-15 years, and then it really pours, cleaning up everything and necessitating loads of repairs.

Our tour from Trujillo, Peru took us first to the Huacas de Moche. (“Huaca” means sacred, sometimes a sacred place, often translated as “temple”.) First, the Huaca de la Luna. It has five levels, i.e. it was filled in and built over four times, every hundred years or so. I don’t know how, but archeologists seem to have removed fill for each of several layers, which allows construction to be observed, as well as the wonderfully carved and painted faces. I couldn’t follow a lot of what the guide said. I wasn’t sure whether superstructures were built over the top of previous layers, or whether these layers were filled in and the next superimposed. Often, bricks were laid in approximate 2m wide vertical rectangles, like columns. This was seismic resistant, each column being independent of those next to it. The Huaca de la Luna is relatively small, and has been excavated more than the Huaca del Sol. (Who knows when, how or by whom their names were assigned?),or.r_qf.&biw=1241&bih=593&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=s6T1Ub2ZCMjPiwKDnICoBw

This archeological site and the excavation of the Huacas is financed by a private foundation, not by the Peruvian government. “They just collect the entrance fee.” Moche locals are hired for much of the excavation. Pottery sherds were scattered all over the ground. I was really tempted to take some!

Chan Chan (of the Chimu) covers a huge expansive area. I can’t imagine what a more thorough tour would look like. We were at the Huaca del Arcoiris, so-called because many of its decorations are rainbows. It’s been extensively reconstructed.,or.r_qf.&biw=1024&bih=475&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=anq8UYjLJsfW0QHMioCoCg

The Santuario Histórico Bosque del Pómac (Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary) near Chiclayo is extraordinary; it’s a dry equatorial forest, full of algarrobo (mesquite) and other such vegetation. A couple of cool birds: a flashing red one, which could be a vermillion flycatcher (That’s a throwback to Tucson!), a yellow hummingbird (which I didn’t see), and an orange bird that spends time on the ground but builds a nest of mud in the trees.

I loved walking up the Huaca Las Ventanas, within the historical sanctuary. If I understood correctly, these adobe structures are basically a landfill faced with adobe bricks. The landfill is isand and soil mixed w/ shells and ceramic sherds! The Huaca del Oro, or Huaca de Loro, is not open to the public due to important archeological finds. Izumi Shimada is the Japanese archeologist who has headed up most of the excavation here; the government of Japan has been instrumental.

Near Cuenca, Ingapirca is the largest archeological site in Ecuador. It was described to Europeans in the 1730s by Charles Marie de la Condamine, of the French Geodesic Expedition. The Expedition was in South America to locate the Equator. Much of the Inca site had been filled with dirt, and stone had been removed for local construction, so that only a small portion remained revealed, a rounded structure soon termed “El Castillo.” Archeologists have excavated, mapped, and restored lots of it. There’s been a good deal of scrubbing to clean mold off surfaces of green rock.

Ingapirca, Ecuador.

One of the more interesting features is the melding of Inca right-angled construction with the curves and ellipses of the Cañari, the region’s inhabitants, who were matrilineal. Much of Ingapirca is built on top of their structures, but some are a combination.

The site is interpreted as an important tambo and trade center on the Inca road, one particularly favored by Inca rulers. Climate and location are gorgeous after the six month trip walking north from Cuzco (!). It’s almost always green and growing season. Rain is heavier at some times of year, but never excessive. Potatoes can be planted pretty much year-round, and there is corn and quinoa. There are lots of cattle today on lush pastures. Some see it as primarily a ceremonial center, with baths for the Inca to be purified before ceremonies, living quarters for the virgins tending to him and the festivals, and the grounds used for lodging and feeding people attending ceremonies. (I do find the obsession with “temples” and “virgins” a bit irksome.) It was a team from Spain that began the excavation of Ingapirca in the 1970s.

Between Cuenca’s Museum of the Banco Central and the Tomebamba River, several hundred feet below, is the archeological site, Parque Arqueológico Tomebamba. Some of the Inca walls of the Tomebamba site are at street level at the top of the river bank. These are storage areas, barracks, and the kancha (“plaza”). Wide terraces cross cut the hill to river level. Close to the river an area has been transformed into a garden and wetland – likely by the Incas, though perhaps it didn’t look quite like today.,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.49784469,d.aWc,pv.xjs.s.en_US.MpiVkF51mpA.O&biw=1280&bih=899&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=4tb2UaC_B4fuyQG_wYCoAg

Further references:

Camellón (agricultura). (2013, 3 de julio). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 21:59, julio 23, 2013 desde

Painter, James (2009). Bolivians look to ancient farming. BBC News. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

Elliott, Jo (2012). Bolivia revives camellones to increase food production. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

Waru Waru, a cultivation and irrigation system used in flood-prone areas of the Altiplano (n.d.) Unesco. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

Denevan, William M. (2001). Cultivated landscapes of Native Amazonia and the Andes. Oxford University Press.

Erickson, C. (1988) Raised Field Agriculture in the Lake Titicaca Basin: Putting Ancient Andean Agriculture Back to Work. Expedition.Vol. 30(3):8-16, special volume edited by Karen Mohr Chavez on Andean Archaeology, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

Erickson, C.L. (2000). The Lake Titicaca Basin: A Pre-Columbian Built Landscape. In Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Precolumbian Americas. edited by David Lentz, pp. 311-356.Columbia University Press, New York. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

Treacy, John M. (1987). Building and Rebuilding Agricultural Terraces in the Colca Valley of Peru. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

Pardo, Julián (n.d.). Rediscovering America: Peru Chavin Art. Retrieved August 3, 2013 from

Racchi. (2013, 9 de abril). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 00:56, junio 5, 2013 desde

Raqchi (n.d.). In Arqueología del Peru. Retrieved June 4, 2013 from

Ollantaytambo. (2013, June 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:35, July 27, 2013, from

Inca architecture. (2013, May 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:35, June 9, 2013, from

Huaca de la Luna. (2013, March 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:14, July 28, 2013, from

Huaca del Sol. (2013, February 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:14, July 28, 2013, from

Chan Chan. (2013, 11 de junio). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 14:33, junio 15, 2013 desde

Netherly, Patricia J. 1984 The management of late Andean irrigation systems on the north coast of Peru. American Antiquity 49(2):227-254.

Izumi Shimada. (2013, April 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:37, June 17, 2013, from

Discovering the Sicán. Izumi Shimada.

Dr. Carlos Elera Arévalo (n.d.) El dorado de Lambayeque y la ruta de los ancestros reales de Sicán. Retrieved June 16, 2013 from

Cañari. (2013, March 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:09, June 21, 2013, from

Quinde Pichisaca, Isidoro (Marzo 2001). Historia del pueblo Cañari. Revista Yachaikuna. Retrieved July 29, 2013 from

Ingapirca. (2013, 8 de marzo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:53, junio 20, 2013 desde

“Las ruinas de Ingapirca fueron excavadas y restauradas por una Misión Arqueológica de España entre los años 1974 y 1975. Esas investigaciones dieron origen a varias publicaciones de los arqueólogos José Alcina, Miguel Rivera y Antonio Fresco.”

Museums, monuments and churches

Punta Arenas has a much-photographed monument in the Plaza de Armas – the one with the Ona, whose toe one must rub. But the largest “monument” in the city is the cemetery, with many rows of well-kept tombs and carefully pruned cedars.

On the walls of the History Café are great old photos and gadgets. Fernando Calcutta is fascinated by Punta Arenas history to about 1918; he hosts Mi Antigua Punta Arenas on Facebook, with photos and comments of people and buildings. (  He’s also doing a new version of Canto a Magallanes,  a regionalist musical. The Café is frequented by “old guys” – people I’m sure I know, but can’t place or remember. He’s a staunch Regionalist, feeling Magallanes was in great shape until the national gov’t came in.

Along Argentine highways are blood-red shrines. They honor Gauchito Gil:

Gauchito Gil. (2013, April 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:43, May 13, 2013, from

The Museo Marítimo / Museo del Presidio of Ushuaia is located in what was a prison for political prisoners (i.e. anarchists) and repeat offenders from the rest of the country. It operated with up to 600 prisoners, many of them used for free labor, until Perón closed it in 1947. It was given to the navy in 1950. There are five wings to the prison, each w/ 2 storeys. One wing is dedicated to the prison itself, although there is plenty of maritime stuff, too. There were several workshops – printing, bakery, wood carving – some outside of the prison itself, e.g. logging. The prisoners themselves built the prison. Another wing is older Ushuaia history, a room (cell) for Croats, another for Italians, the Lawrence family, etc.,or.r_qf.&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=7J-RUcGPDYTE0gGM5YHADw

On the waterfront in Ushuaia is a small museum telling the story of the float plane flights and crash of Gunther Plüschow in Lago Argentino and the sinking of the Monte Cervantes cruise ship in the 1920s. No one died, but they were stuck in incredibly cold water, and had to walk a fair distance to get back to Ushuaia!

SS Monte Cervantes. (2013, April 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:42, May 14, 2013, from

Santiago, Chile has some great exhibits. The Museo Histórico Dominico has sparkling silver, glass, and china works of the colonial era. The Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda was showing textiles of Latin America. There was a great deal of work from Mexico (from the Museo de Artes Populares) and from Guatemala (from the Museo de Arte Textil) – both of which I’ve visited!

The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) in the city was chock-full of audiotapes, videotapes, photos and text, much to listen to and learn. Most of it was painfully familiar. New to me was information on protest during the dictatorship (and I found I was a little shocked to see reference to “la dictadura”, rather than “el gobierno militar”), the No campaign, and on bombings and assassinations by the left.

The Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore is in an old renovated government building in La Paz. One large area is of textiles. There are plenty hanging on the walls, and more in drawers underneath. It was a little frustrating to look at because the motion-triggered overhead light went out every two minutes and, no photos allowed. Still, nice. Then to the area of feather work, just gorgeous. Then masks, all apparently used for dances (but perhaps the whole of the Yaqui Easter ceremonies would be counted as dances). Then, ceramics. The last is the whole historic exhibit. All pretty good. Some problems for me w/ lighting; the explanatory text was often too dark to read, and sometimes too long. Or black printing on a dark background. Plus, I couldn’t think of photographing; no photos allowed.

What a joy is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in La Paz, Bolivia. In realistic paintings, I loved to see artists who appreciate the beauty of the people and the landscape. A young man spoke to me, Lior, from Israel. Like me, he was thrilled. We both paid the extra fee for the chance to take photos. (I know this was part of what I appreciated: the chance to take street photos through the windows and to photograph portraits of people I’m not able to photograph in person.) The building is so photogenic, with views from the windows of the hillside neighborhoods, even sometimes of mountains. Part of what makes this place so beautiful is the light, the clarity of the air.

In El Alto, on the way into town from the airport is an impressive monument to Che Guevara. As he was assassinated in Bolivia, Guevara is an “issue” here, both loved and hated, resulting in shame and anger. The sculptor is Félix Durán, and the 7-metre high piece is made of scrap metal. Che carries a rifle in his right hand, a dove in his left, and stands on an eagle!

Carlos Dreyer was a German painter and amateur archeologist who married a Peruvian and lived in Peru for fifty years until his death in 1975. His heirs donated his collection to the Municipality of Puno, which acquired his nineteenth-century home and established the Museo Carlos Dreyer.

Carlos Dreyer. (2012, 30 de mayo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 02:48, junio 5, 2013 desde

Puno also has a prívate museum, the Museo de la Coca. One room is of coca lore, photos, stories, and uses. Aymara and Quechua people will never give up coca because “It defines who we are!” Online, I find the museum is owned by Sylvia, “descendiente de aymaras,” who reads fortunes in coca leaves and travels the world giving lectures ( Interesting; I never saw mention of the lejía or soda as facilitators of alkaloid release. There is a great collection of ceremonial regalia and masks, much of it familiar from Oaxaca and Sonora. (Likely because they were spread by Catholic missionaries.)

From Puno we travelled 1 ½ hours or so until reaching the archeological site of Pucara, but we didn’t actually get to go to the site because of excavation. A large platform structure could be seen from the road. We went into the town of Pucara to a privately owned Alcrapukara museum (not the state one!). There was a mix of pottery, a few vicuñas in a pen, some lithics, a bit of religious stuff.

Pardo, Julian. Pucara Puno Peru. In Rediscovering America. Retrieved June 4, 2013 from

The beautiful Iglesia de San Pedro in Andahuaylillas is spoken of as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, because every surface is covered with paintings and gold. I had fun talking with little girls there, who were interested in why I was taking photos of the rectory – whose foundation is four centuries old.

One of the more tourist-filled sites in Cuzco is the Inca’s Qorikancha, now the Convento Santo Domingo, another ceremonial structure superseded by a Catholic church, although the foundations remain. There is some fantastic stonework inside and overlooking the city.

The Casa Concha is a colonial building atop the residence of the royal lineage of Tupa Inca Yupanqui. It now houses the Museo Machupicchu, including a huge model of Machu Picchu that lights up in synchrony with an oral explanation of the site. The building was refurbished especially to receive 366 artifacts excavated and removed by Hiram Bingham and others, which were returned to Peru by Yale University in 2011.

Culture & Places News: Yale Agrees to Return Machu Picchu Artifacts (n.d.). National Geographic. Retrieved July 26, 2013 from

In downtown Lima is the Casa Nacional de la Moneda. On the second floor (up many flights of stairs, being an old bank with high ceilings) is a collection of paintings by the best Peruvian artists. So I was told by a very nice young lawyer, Miguel. He works in the government for one of the senators, and loves art so much he spends his lunch break with the paintings. He started speaking to me in broken English, and blushed when I answered in Spanish. I’m the one who should be blushing, as I know so little about art! One of the artists I liked is the costumbrista Francisco (Pancho) Fierro, a mulato who did watercolors of the people of Lima.

In the basement of the bank, in the vaults, is a great ceramic collection from the several culture areas of Peru through the centuries. I realized that I tend to think of the various big cultural complexes as separate and sequential (e.g. Moche, Chimu, Tiwanaku) when in fact several coexisted and overlapped.

José María Arguedas was a poet, ethnologist and anthropologist who wrote a great deal about indigenous people, and there’s a whole ethno-graphy project dedicated to him, aimed at collecting and protecting local customs and celebrations through photography. On the street was an exhibit of photos relating to this folklore project (hence ethno-graphy).

José María Arguedas. (2013, 27 de mayo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 14:45, junio 13, 2013 desde

La Casa de la Gastronomía Peruana in Lima is more of an exhibit or display museum than a critical analysis, but still informative. There are displays of distinctive Peruvian foodstuffs and of Peruvian dishes and preparations. Illustrations of cooking methods, e.g. pit cooking and stone oven cooking, are not common in museums. Competitions have been held in various areas of the country, prizes awarded for the best recipes, and cooks and dishes are portrayed in large displays. Obtain recipes at  Kiwicha (amaranth) and kañiwa are indigenous grains new to me. Pallar (lima beans) and habas are two different things. Habas are broad beans, domesticated in the Old World. A room dedicated to quinoa has just opened. Kinwa (quinoa) has to be thoroughly washed to remove the bitter taste of saponina. This also helps explain why it is used in washing raw wool: it’s soap, and probably suds up!

I longed for something on the politics of food, hunger, distribution, the displacement of indigenous foods by European or modern cuisine, prohibition on the production of indigenous foods, etc. For example, kinwa has become very fashionable in rich countries, especially among those sensitive to other grains. There was a time when only peasants ate quinoa; now that it’s become popular w/ foreigners, it has become almost unaffordable, a driver told me.

I spent at least three hours at the Museo Larco in Pueblo Libre, a neighborhood of Lima ( Housed in a large structure on a couple of levels, looking like a colonial building from the outside, it was actually built to be a museum in the 1950s. Rafael Larco Hoyle was born in Peru to a wealthy sugar-planting family near Trujillo. His father had amassed a huge archeological collection which was donated to the Prado in Madrid! They then started over, and got together another collection of pottery, silver and gold for Rafael. He ran family businesses in addition to the museum collection and excavations. I wonder why there wasn’t more representation of llamas and alpacas.

The collection seems a bit haphazardly presented, or at least I had some trouble figuring out the logic. It sort of seems to be types of objects, and within that, cultures and eras. A significant collection of erotic pottery seems rather oddly interpreted. There is a comment that not all of the sex is reproductive, but rather intended not to result in conception, i.e. there’s a lot of oral sex. Very prudishly, all cases of “doggy style” and even of “woman sitting on top” are interpreted as anal intercourse! And there are definitely some male homosexuals, explicitly labeled as “hombre y mujer” – man and woman.

I’d never realized how infrequently women are portrayed in Andean ceramics.

Most incredibly, there is a huge collection in a storehouse, behind glass, open to the public. Tens of thousands of pieces are organized by type. See images:

I began to wonder why everything Andean had to be a jug. They made jugs portraying everything and everyone conceivable. A heck of a lot of them have one small hole out (and in) through which everything must flow. It would have been horribly messy, as there was no way for air to get in except through the same hole. (How do you get ketchup out of the bottle?) Not to mention impossible to clean.

Finally, I learned that these are “huacos” – ceramics made for luxury or ceremonial use, often sacred (like “huacas”). It’s wonderful that museums display fascinating huacos, but where is the everyday stuff?

The Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú is in Pueblo Libre about a 15 minute walk away, following a blue line through the very pleasant neighborhood. Here, a room was dedicated to Amazonia as well as the other culture areas. The Museum doesn’t seem to have its own website, but was founded in 1822! Being historical, there was some stuff from the colony and the republic.

The Museo Nacional Cultura Sicán (in Lambayeque, near Chiclayo, Peru) has way too much death, burial, royalty, gold and sacrifice for my tastes. Still, I learned one way in which pottery is molded. The mold has a groove scored around it, and a string is placed in that groove. Clay is pressed onto the mold; then the string is pulled out of the groove, cutting through the soft clay. The two pieces must then be patched together. (I’d always pictured the wet clay going inside the mold, which would have to be separated into two pieces, or made in two halves.) This site has good images and descriptions of the museums:

Because they were closed for Father’s Day (!), we didn’t visit the Museo Nacional Tumbas Reales de Sipán, nor did we see the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Antropología Brüning. The big excitement there is the exhibit of the mortuary goods (ajuar) of the Sacerdotisa (Priestess) Lambayeque de Chornankap, just opened. It’s going on a foreign tour eventually. There’s to be a brief write-up in National Geographic. Photos are here

The Palacio Municipal de Chiclayo is one of those beautifully painted public ones, yellow w/ white trim. It’s been renovated recently since a fire in 2006. ( ) My guide to the photography exhibit was a kind young man in a dark suit, fond of using a wooden pointer. He read the text material beside the photos to me. Chiclayo’s plaza is lovely.

Cuenca’s Museo del Banco Central, or Museo Pumapungo has some interesting stuff (not to mention the Tomebamba archeological park) but is a very frustrating museum. For one thing, the security guard was also the only person around to sign in visitors and answer any questions – but he was either on the phone or conversations were interrupted by ringing or intercom. I really hate being interrupted!

The other frustrating thing was that illustrations and text were totally illegible, to my eyes. They were fuzzed out of focus, and/or the light shining on letters created a shadow so they couldn’t be distinguished. Or it was black letters on a patterned background. In addition, photographs weren’t allowed. Fortunately, there are plenty on the Internet.

The museum has a good collection and explanation of Shuar tsantsa, or shrunken heads. Again, illegible and unphotographable.

Shuar people. (2013, May 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:42, June 21, 2013, from

The Museo de las Culturas Aborígenes of Cuenca is governed by a corporation. Like others, it has some really interesting examples of pre-Inca ceramics. The gift shop sells Ikat paños de Gualaceo – for U.S. $300.

The Museo del Viejo Catedral is really just the interior of the old, de-consecrated cathedral of Cuenca, with a few remaining religious images and some painted walls. It’s now used for musical concerts. I got a giggle out of the semicircle of musicians’ chairs in the raised altar area. Behind that were four rows of bleachers and, behind them, figures of the twelve apostles, with Jesus in the center, in a semicircle!

The Museo de las Conceptas was a nun’s convent, so had memorabilia of their presence. There were photos of a nun making communion wafers but, mostly, I found many of the religious figures (saints, Virgins, Jesus, the figures of many Nativities) grotesque, as well as the novices’ toys. There were images of daily life that I think were total fakes; the same novice with the same smile in each. Actresses?,or.r_qf.&biw=1280&bih=899&bvm=pv.xjs.s.en_US.MpiVkF51mpA.O&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=xMv2UcuKMvOLyQH0rYCwAg

At the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno was an exhibit by Cuenca-born Fernando Coellar: To me, his images are a cross between Disney and manga. They’re really neither one, just his own. I especially enjoy his interpretation of biblical and hagiographic themes!

At the Centro Cultural Metropolitano de Quito was an exhibit of indigenous people from around the world, speaking of how climate change is affecting them: Conversations with the earth: Indigenous voices on climate change ( They’ve had almost nothing to do with causing the change, yet suffer it the most. A Quichua village suffered a tsunami as a result of an over-hanging glacier breaking off and landing in the lake, flooding the containment systems, destroying water delivery systems. In another Quichua village, a man goes to the glacier twice a week for ice, which he sells in the market. He hauls it out on burro, wrapped in hay he’s cut for the purpose. It’s better for making blended drinks than industrial ice. How long before the ice is gone? Pacific Islanders spoke of the pollution created by atomic testing, the defoliation, but especially rising waters, bringing in salt water, destroying crops, a double blow in just a few generations.

Included in the exhibit are gourds carved and burned by Irma Luz Poma Canchumani. They’re gorgeous, but my photos didn’t work out. There’s much on google, e.g.

Paúl Calderón is a very talented realist painter, w/ a great show at the same Centro Cultural (unrelated to Conversations…). The exhibit’s catalogue is available online:

I convinced myself to go to the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, the park and monument to the Equator. Couldn’t very well skip that while in Quito, Ecuador, could I? A broad sidewalk leads to the monument, which is a large sphere on top of a tower. A yellow line is said to mark the equator. (A location 300m away claims that distinction.) It costs $3 to get in (for foreigners) and another $3 to get into the tower, which has an ethnographic museum. There are  displays for the indigenous peoples of each of the areas of Ecuador. Not bad; nothing political or controversial; no photos allowed. Smudgy photos and maps. I learned that some of the Afro-Ecuadorian population consists of descendants of slaves brought in by Jesuits to work their fields in the 16th century. Also in the park are restaurants, cafes and a lot of craft stores; it’s a bit Disneylandish in this regard, especially as most stores sell exactly the same stuff. Ditto for the many restaurants. (Or, as I overheard another tourist say, “It’s a lot like Six Flags.”)

The Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús in Quito is lined in gold and carved to the nth degree. Baroque, 18th century, finished maybe 2 years before the Jesuits were expelled. Lots of tour groups were in there, and only one local person I could see. I was told it would cost $3 to get in, so questioned the amount of change I got back. The ticket seller explained she had only student tickets remaining, so couldn’t charge me full price. (I should have donated the balance.)

After the Jesuits were expelled, the church was given to the Camilos. It was returned to the Jesuits not too long ago, and has undergone 19 years of repairs. The steeple was toppled by the last earthquake. The bells are now inside the church, awaiting a new steeple, I guess. It used to be the tallest structure in Quito. No photos allowed.,or.r_qf.&biw=1241&bih=593&bvm=pv.xjs.s.en_US.9jgl75mduIg.O&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=BDn3UbjqIYSoiAK_7IGQBQ

The Basílica del Voto Nacional is dedicated to the Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart), because Ecuador is. It’s not a terribly old building, made of concrete, but quite interesting and even beautiful. First, the outside is all baroque curlicues, really tall and slender, delicate-looking. I was then struck by the pairs of animals emerging from the gables: tortoises, anteaters, iguanas, jaguars, monkeys. They did charge $1 to go in, which I didn’t mind at all, especially as they allowed photos. The altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe is beautiful. She is flanked by the Virgin of each South American country. A woman was fastening roses and sashes to church pews for a wedding while children were being catechised. The views are fantastic, although I was very happy the stairs to climb the towers were already closed! No way did I climb up!,or.r_qf.&biw=1241&bih=593&bvm=pv.xjs.s.en_US.9jgl75mduIg.O&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=lCj3Uf6fI6jaigKQs4HwCg

Bogotá’s Museo Botero was the first of several Colombian locations I visited to which Fernando Botero has made such a huge contribution. To this one, he has donated not only many of his own pieces, but also a huge collection of other artists’. They do allow photos, but if one gets too close to the pictures, an alarm goes off. Embarrassing.

The Museo del Oro Banco de la República in Bogotá ( leads me to think gold was worked all over Colombia by pre-hispanic peoples. It looks quite different from Costa Rican three-dimensional goldwork; there’s much more in thin gold sheets. There was a lot of lost-wax work here, too. The museum has items beautifully displayed, with interesting and legible text. Captions are detailed, often humorous and awestruck. The museum was full of people. It covers three floors. Photographs are allowed ( There’s a decent summary of the various pre-historic peoples in Colombia, especially as gold is concerned. I think just about everything is on the website. The current temporary exhibit is on Muisca gold offerings. The entire catalogue is downloadable, and there are clear instructions on the website of how to make best use of the whole thing. What a great approach! ( Like the Banco Central de Ecuador, The Banco de la República spends a great deal on libraries and such around Colombia – great public relations.

In Manizales, Colombia, is the Recinto del Pensamiento Jaime Restrepo Mejía – a park dedicated to thinking? It’s a large park / botanical garden that goes up the side of a hill, as does everything in Manizales. Guided tours are compulsory. Having climbed up a steep path, we came first to the hummingbird viewing area. Very cool, peaceful, warm, humid, nice smelling. There were about 12 people on the tour, and we were passed from one guide to another about every half hour. The guides were all excellent, university students in botany and zoology, I’d bet. One made the good point that male hummingbirds are more brilliantly colored than females so they, not females and young, will be the targets of predators. In my opinion, the most beautiful butterfly was outside the mariposario (butterfly house), a large white one whose wings flash with iridescence as it flies.  The bonsais were one of the less interesting areas, in my view, but then came the orchids, growing out of doors on trees.

Also there is an enormous structure by Simón Vélez. It’s made of bamboo (which, if I’ve understood an article correctly, is called the “fierro vegetal” only once it’s been filled w/ concrete.) He made it for a competition in Germany, to demonstrate the strength and versatility of bamboo (guadua). I was disturbed that the floor of the second storey was concrete, but now that I see it’s an integral part of his construction, it makes sense. The article here depicts the man in all his self-centredness.

The Monumento a los Colonizadores, is at the top of a gracious middle-class Manizales neighborhood, Chipre. (That’s a monument to settlers, not colonizers!) ( The monument was only created in 1997-2002, apparently of discarded, donated keys. I may have to try looking up more on this in English, as the Spanish sources are pretty scanty. Anyway, it’s a large and quite dramatic sculpture. The bottom half depicts an ox being hauled up a steep hill by a ring through its nose, while a man falls backwards off his horse and other horses are drowning in mud. In the top half, there’s a kid sitting in a chair on top of a mule, a woman holding up a baby, another man hauling the ox. Some of the pieces are broken, hollow inside or showing Styrofoam. Weird, but cool. I gather these colonizers / settlers were Colombians, not foreigners. I can’t seem to find out who the sculptor / designer was.

Some cool 360 degree views of places in Manizales are here:,7.00,88.7

Downtown, on a large, paved plaza, is the cathedral (Catedral Basílica Nuestra Señora de los Rosarios de Manizales). One large sculpture depicts Simón Bolívar as a condor. There’s an amazingly large pigeon population around the cathedral. The church itself is very plain cement, with very few monuments. As usual, there are many worshippers. It’s just so different from North American religious practice! This cathedral does have beautiful stained glass.

Medellín’s Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe is mostly just a nice garden with a couple of special areas – e.g. an orquidario (not open today) and a mariposario (which was). Lots of places for people to sit and have picnics, a couple of cafés, all very pleasant. There’s no entrance fee, just a sign saying “La Alcaldía ya pagó tu entrada.” The Municipality of Medellín, Colombia, has already paid your entrance fee, and you have only to follow these rules. The overall feeling in this city is that governments have decided that people will behave as they are expected and are given space to; that, well treated, provided with beautiful things and entrusted not to destroy them they won’t; that the investment in keeping things running well and looking good pays off. For example, there is plenty of supervision and guidance for getting on Metros and Metrocable.

On the Plaza Botero is the Museo de Antioquia of Medellín. Once the building of the municipal government, it encloses two courtyards. There was an exhibit of ceramics, pre-Columbian to modern, showing techniques of forming, decorating, and firing. Very good! Other things were images, paintings and photos, a few of La Violencia, but not a lot. The topic was Antioquero identity, but this wasn’t deemed too important.

Much of the second floor was Fernando Botero. As in Bogotá, he donated a huge amount of work, so gets a lot of publicity. I didn’t know of his political perspective. For example, he produced 80 dramatic, impressive, horrifying images for his Abu Ghraib exhibit, depicting the torture and mistreatment of prisoners there.,or.r_qf.&biw=1024&bih=475&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=es-419&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=SIjPUcWOO4rD0QHL6YGICg

He developed another series dealing with La Violencia en Colombia, including one of the rooftop shooting of Pablo Escobar.,or.r_qf.&biw=1024&bih=475&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=es-419&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=O4rPUYnuG8Tk0QGxmIH4Aw

The main floor of the Palacio de la Inquisición in Cartagena, Colombia, has an exhibit of instruments of torture, etc.; I didn’t go in there. Outside were recorded a couple of interesting facts: no Indians were ever prosecuted, and no one was ever found innocent. The Inquisition carried out inquiries, e.g. through torture, but it was other courts that actually condemned people to die and carried out sentences. The building also houses the Museo Histórico de Cartagena de Indias. There is one room with indigenous pottery, another of colonial stuff, a little on slavery, and some republican history. A lot of artifacts have been lost through the years. Renovations have been extensive, with a strong emphasis on replicating the original.

Saint Pedro Claver was a Catalan, born in 1580, ordained a Jesuit in Cartagena in 1616, and lived there as “Esclavo de los esclavos” (Slave of the slaves) until his death in 1654. There are at least a couple of sculptures – one outside, one in – of him ministering to African slaves. The Museo de San Pedro Claver is part of the convent of the church now dedicated to him. It consists of the room where he lived, the room where he died, and paintings of his life. It’s said that very late on Friday nights he paced the floors wearing a crown of thorns, to concentrate on Jesus’ suffering. Another room contains a number of religious images. In the floor above this, today’s priests live.

Perhaps because of the recent rain and dark skies, this was a gloomy and morbid place. Exhibition rooms smelled of mold. The courtyard garden was terribly dark. (This, I think, was a result of clouds. Normally, one would appreciate the shade.) There was a cage with two large birds – a guacamaya and another. Sad.

The church itself was large, but quite bare. It was empty of people, and smelled of furniture polish. The cupola (interior of the dome) is inscribed “Petrus Claver, aethiopum semper servus” (“Peter Claver, servant of the Ethiopians [i.e. Africans] forever.”) His skeleton is under the altar, his skull clearly visible. Wouldn’t the Aztecs and Incas love that?

Close by is the Museo del Oro Zenú; interesting gold, but I’m most interested in the ethnography. Zenú society covered a number of ecozones – the ocean w/ fish and salt, the gold zone, the agricultural zone – and political authorities of each governed exchange between them. (Typical chiefdom.)

Further references:

Penal de Ushuaia. (2012, 13 de noviembre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 02:20, mayo 14, 2013 desde

Cultura Pucara. In Historia Universal. Retrieved June 4, 2013 from

Bingham, Hiram (April 1913). In the wonderland of Peru. National Geographic. Retrieved July 27, 2013 from

Search for the Amazon headshrinkers (February 1, 2013). Inside NGC. Retrieved August 3, 2013 from

Fernando Botero. (2013, 12 de junio). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:16, junio 30, 2013 desde

Peter Claver. (2013, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:11, July 2, 2013, from

Politics and society

The situation of indigenous peoples in Chile is by no means ideal, and they’re certainly lively and loud. From hunger strikes to lawsuits to street protests, rather than merely accommodate and heal themselves as victims, they are increasingly forcing the Chilean state and those who have benefited from aboriginal losses to change their attitudes and behavior. They’re becoming equal players on the political and legal stage, rather than oppressed minorities.

A translation of a passage from the writings of Mapuche journalist Pedro Cayuqueo will help to illustrate:

Common sense. It’s what is missing in Chile when we begin to speak of royalty and tax reforms. Here, we prefer patchwork solutions, Plan B. Or the world-famous “Chilean Way,” which means, “Why do something well if we can do it badly or so-so?” For example, for two decades, this typified the Concertación policies vis-à-vis the Mapuche. Did I tell you about the communities for whom CONADI purchased magnificent farms, but neglected to invest in machinery, agricultural inputs and, especially, technical training? Or about those communities for which herds of milk cattle were purchased, while the people lacked pastures to feed them? Obviously, they ate them. Prime beef.

It happened countless times in the South. Hence the actual abandonment of many farms recovered by Mapuche families. No, it’s not that they’re drunk and lazy, as Sergio Villalobos thinks. Just try, without technical or financial support, to shift from being a subsistence food farmer to an agricultural entrepreneur, and then we’ll talk. Along the way, of course, someone noticed the screw-up and came up with the solution: “ORIGENES,” a daring program of support and development assistance for the country’s indigenous communities. Where did the money come from? From royalties from the big forestry, salmon or mining industries operating on indigenous territory in Chile? From the state’s payment of the so-called “historic debt?” No way. It came from a huge loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, $167.9 million dollar, payable by all Chileans over fifteen years with five years of grace and adjustable interest rates. For the multilateral agencies and their local intermediaries, it was a great deal. For indigenous communities, it’s best not to talk about certain things.

Cayuqueo, Pedro (May 11, 2012). The Chilean way. In The Clinic Online. Retrieved July 18, 2013 from

There are some attempts to rectify historical wrongs, e.g. by returning expropriated lands. However, it’s not the beneficiaries of those injustices who are paying. Instead, it is everyone. There is also a tendency, even among leftist South American governments, to characterize indigenous protestors and activists as terrorists.

For example, Bret Gustavson thinks Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo is not being altogether democratic when it responds to indigenous protest (e.g. against natural gas drilling) with bullets. Nor is it always plurinationalist, as indigenous highlanders oppose lowlanders. The “new extractivism” priorizes the resource, exports, revenues, and benefits to urban dwellers over the people. (Rather like forcing low commodities prices on rural farmers to garner urban votes.) Rights to consumption and national revenue outweigh concerns about climate change. Resource extraction is seen as a symbol of revolutionary progress. Only fifteen percent of the natural gas stays in Bolivia; the rest goes to Brazil and Argentina. It provides little benefit to the poor and drought-plagued Guaraní of the Chaco where it is produced. To many Bolivians, getting gas from there is some retribution for 1933-35 War of the Chaco against Paraguay, in which 57,000 Bolivians died. Extraction and use of gas is, thus, a patriotic, and even a religious duty. President Evo Morales gives thanks to Mother Earth for Bolivia’s cheap gas. “Gas—Mother Nature, of sorts—does have many rights, including the right to water, and trucks rumble in bringing this water consumed in drilling operations and left as pollutants in holding ponds.”

Gustafson, Bret (May 28, 2013). Amid gas, where is the revolution? NACLA. Retrieved July 22, 2013 from

My cabdriver says that when Evo Morales became President of Bolivia, he was completely anti-corruption and did lots of good things. He appointed his right-hand man head of the natural gas corporation, which is now the biggest source of income for Bolivia. When the man stole, he was thrown in jail. When things like that happen now, Morales makes excuses and lets them go.

However, Bolivians appreciate some improvements. There are a number of “bonos”: one for women who’ve just had children (about $100/month for six months), $60/month for people over 60, and $100 each at the beginning and the end of the school year, to encourage children to attend and to stay in school. (That’s if their parents don’t take it!) In addition, Bolivia (and Ecuador!) subsidizes the cost of gasoline. Foreigners are charged double what Bolivian citizens pay. It is said that the whole economy of Juliaca, Peru is based on smuggling. People cross the border into Bolivia to bring back everything from electrical appliances to toys to gasoline.

On the walkways in front of a university in La Paz were craft vendors and booths for various causes, including “Mujeres creando” ( The website is very interesting, the feminism radical. There’s a great interview elsewhere with one of its founders, María Galindo. For instance, one of their actions has been to make Ekeko, the Andean god of abundance, into a woman, Ekeka – rejecting the patriarchy of the father/provider and his erotic aspect.

Green, Sharyl and Lackowski, Peter (April 2, 2012).  Bolivian Radical Feminist Maria Galindo on Evo Morales, Sex-Ed, and Rebellion in the Universe of Women. Upside down world: Covering activism and politics in Latin America. Retrieved July 24, 2013 from–bolivian-radical-feminist-maria-galindo-on-evo-morales-sex-ed-and-rebellion-in-the-universe-of-women-

A store clerk told me the story Ekeko, the laughing mustached male figure laden with possessions. He is the god of abundance, fertility and joy. Before the Spanish, she said, he entered houses naked, but wearing lots of gold. Now he’s dressed, usually in a suit, tie and hat, carrying lots of “stuff.”

It’s apparent community is really strong. In Bolivia, the highway goes through areas where houses are scattered but in sight of each other. Their outhouses were often identical, implying they’d been purchased and installed simultaneously, by the community.

This article briefly covers land reform in South America, explaining why it was needed – why land tenure is so different in South vs. North America.

Eguren, Fernando, “Land Reforms in Latin America,” A Discussion Paper, 2005. Retrieved July 29, 2013 from

The right to collectively own land is enshrined in Bolivia’s 2010 constitution. A Tierra Comunitaria de Origen (TCO, Original Community Land) is something like a Canadian Indian reserve. “Indigenous” in Bolivia means those who did not participate in Bolivia’s 1952 revolution. Campesino – peasant – designates those who did. The two not infrequently clash. Campesinos tend to be in the western highlands; indígenas in the eastern lowlands. As campesino lands have been fragmented into minifundios (small landholdings) in the generations since 1952, and with increasing population, campesinos have moved east, to the Oriente, where more land is available. However, many of the TCOs have been formed there by indigenous groups, who think of land as communally-owned, for hunting, fishing, etc. Campesinos want land used “productively” (i.e. for $), governed by individuals and families rather than communities. Campesinos sometimes speak of the TCOs as “the new latifundistas” – the new large landowners who hamper and exploit them.

Achtenberg, Emily (April 1, 2013). Bolivia: The unfinished business of land reform. NACLA. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from

If a person moves into a community in Bolivia, he might be able to rent a building, but if it were up for sale, community authorities would have to agree to his buying it. They’d have to agree he’s been in the community long enough and has done enough positive things to qualify as a member. For instance, if I were to come from Canada and want to buy land, I was told I’d have to have a recommendation from my president, the head of my government, before I’d be allowed to buy in. Rent, yes, but not own.

I was more successful tracking down community and collective land tenure in Peru than in Bolivia. In Peru, communities can have collective title. presents the Ley General de Comunidades Campesinas, 1987 (General Law of Peasant Communities). They’re legally recognized, own and allocate land communally, and their form of government is regulated (President, Vice president, at least 4 directors, all of whom must be qualified comuneros, and speak the local language). A comunero (member) must be adult, have lived in Community at least 5 years, renounce membership in all other Communities, may marry in. Communities have their own constitutions ( ).

Peru’s land reform took place in the early 1970s under a military gov’t (though it started long before). Large estates were given to peasant co-ops. The purposes of the reform were to diminish social inequality and concentration of wealth. Some of its negative consequences were unsuccessful cooperatives, atomization of landholdings and lack of capital investment. More recently, with new cash crops, land concentration is returning.

Land reform took place in the late 1960s or 1970s in Ecuador. It had pluses and minuses. It freed peasants from the control of the landowner. Hacendados (owners of haciendas) practically owned them, in a system of debt peonage. Hacendados didn’t need to have the land in production because they had reliable income from peasants. However, since land redistribution, there’s been a great deal of deforestation, because each new owner cleared his land.

In discussion of indigenous peoples, there is often reference to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989. Retrieved July 28, 2013 from—ed_norm/—normes/documents/publication/wcms_100897.pdf

Most South American states have ratified it; North America has not.

            Despite ratification, there are disagreements. For example, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala refuses to consult with peoples of the Peruvian sierra and coast regarding resource exploitation (as is required for indigenous communities) because he considers them peasant communities (comunidades agrarias) created by the land tenure reform. “Peasant” is not “indigenous.” “Comunidades nativas” (indigenous communities), in his view, are only in the jungle.

The clerk at a great bookstore in Cusco – a social scientist – gave me a lecture on the Partido Comunista del Perú Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path guerrilla movement. It consisted of 5000 members who kept the country in a state of war for years! It was so radically nationalistically communist it had no ties to any other countries. Abimael Guzmán, the main leader, never fired a gun and was arrested in a bourgeois neighborhood of Lima. The elitist movement had no interest in having the people join as members or doing the will of the people; they knew best. It was almost a religious cult, with members speaking of Guzmán as if he possessed a revealed truth. Some analysts have spoken of the movement as a consequence and replication of colonial relationships, but it was actually something new. It held some appeal for peasants who were urbanizing, modernizing. The government really blew it by attacking the peasantry, causing the movement to expand, rather than going after the source of it: the militarized cadres and the problems of the peasantry.

Peru formed a Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Its 2003 Report says over 69,000 were killed during the 1980-2000 armed conflict; Shining Path is responsible for over 31,000 of those, and the military and death squads for the remainder. The Committee also compiled a photographic exhibit: Yuyanapaq: To remember.

Currently, terrorism/guerrillas/Sendero Luminoso, narco-traffickers, the rural poor, and the military are all tangled up. The VRAEM (Valley of the Rivers Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro) seems to be a particularly problematic area. Land titles have only recently been transferred to individual owners; housing is being built for military personnel, who are sometimes the victims and sometimes the perpetrators of shootings. Drug trafficking is now equated with Sendero Luminoso and with terrorism. SL protects coca producers, its main source of income. Lacking other employment and income, peasants and youth are lured into working for the coca industry.

Peru has a new law on military service. All men have to register when they turn 17. University students and fathers are exempt. Recruits will be drafted only if there aren’t enough volunteers, and there will be a lottery among those who are registered. If a man’s name is drawn, he can pay a fine of S1850 to avoid serving one to two years. If he is selected and just doesn’t show up, he is subject to “muerte civil,” i.e. civil death: he can engage in no civil transactions at all, get no license, get married, etc. Those who do military service get technical training, the chance of studies at armed forces and police academies and a line of credit at the Banco de la Nación. However, there is serious opposition to the class discrimination of the lottery and fine; only the poor will do military service.

Keiko Fujimori (presidential candidate for her father’s Acción Popular party) alternately accuses President Ollanta Humala of “not wearing pants” or of hiding “behind his wife’s skirts.” (It’s a possibility Nadine Heredia will run for president and her husband Ollanta for Vice President, as he can’t succeed himself. The arrangement is jokingly referred to as “reelección conyugal”!) When Humala refused ex-president Alberto Fujimori release from his prison sentence on compassionate grounds (He’s depressed.), Keiko said, “Humala tendrá botas, pero el fujimorismo tiene pantalones.” Humala may have boots, but Fujimorism wears pants. (Fujimori stands convicted of murder, kidnapping, bodily harm, embezzlement and bribery.)

Ecuadorans speak with great pride of their government.  President Rafael Correa has won three successive elections with increasing majorities. The American dollar was adopted as currency in 2001, at a rate of 2500 sucres to the dollar (“dolarización”, by a previous government). It was pretty disastrous for many people, but they’ve adjusted. Confidence in the money has replaced fear of hyperinflation and never knowing how much loan repayment will amount to. Before this gov’t, no one paid taxes and no public works were done. There was protest when taxes were imposed, but now people can see how the money is spent. The middle class is willing to pay because they see the rich being taxed. The Panamerican highway was a pothole-filled road of dirt. Now it’s a paved highway. Schools and health care are much better and poverty has been reduced. Ecuador is offering to forego petroleum projects in Amazonia if they receive financial support from abroad to replace the oil revenues. (David Suzuki was most impressed!) At least as significantly, this president stands up for Ecuador. The term and concepts of socialism are used freely, refusing to bow to the U.S., and Ecuadorians are now quite aware that there is more than one trade partner and power in the world.

One of Correa’s campaign promises was to regulate the media. The “Ley Orgánica de Comunicación” was recently passed, Among other things, it aims to reduce the concentrated ownership of means of communication, reduce slander and libel, and increase Ecuadorian content during prime time. The opposition speaks of curtailing freedom of speech, violating human rights, censorship, socialist dictatorship, tyranny, etc. Another plan is to reorganize land tenure.

(The Venezuelan gov’t is planning to pass a new law, “Ley de Protección, Promoción y Apoyo de la Lactancia Materna,” to promote breast feeding rather than infant formula. They want to battle industrial milk sellers. It may be so extreme as to prohibit the use of baby bottles and soothers! They’d better be sure women don’t have to work while breast feeding!)

Colombians are feeling pretty good about their country. There is the old-fashioned nationalism, e.g. “Spaniards say we speak the best Spanish, and if they say it, you can bank on it.” (It’s always been said, but I’d have to disagree, given lots of mumbling.) Colombia is second in the world in flower exports, and first in exotic flower exports. Colombia has two oceans and three mountain ranges. Colombia is the best friend the U.S. has in the region. And so on.

More seriously, they’re very relieved about how much better life is here now than it was a few years ago. People feel safe to go out, there is much less violence and less drug trafficking. Kidnappings, death squads, extortion, murders, torture were all terrifyingly common during La Violencia.

Dividing lines were deep and conflictive: desperate urban and rural poor, indigenous peoples, neighborhood gangs, laborers and unions, industrialists, multinational oil companies, landowners, drug traffickers, guerrillas, paramilitary (AUC – Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), armed forces, government and the justice system – all with subdivisions, all fighting with each other at least some of the time, almost all armed.

Guerrillas sought to combat poverty by overthrowing the government and by capturing the wealth of the rich owners and of the drug lords, often through kidnapping and ransoms. They are now in negotiation with the government.

The paramilitary (“soldiers” from the drug trade and off-duty and ex-military), got their start when guerrillas kidnapped a sister of big drug lord. The drug handlers put their money into creating MAS (Muerte a Secuestradores – Death to Kidnappers). Soon, the AUC were supported by “políticos, militares, ganaderos, empresarios y personas del común” and multinationals who felt the state military, hampered by legal procedures, wasn’t doing enough. The alliance between government and the drug barons went so far as to allow the latter and their money into government. It didn’t last beyond 1984.

Before long, AUC were raising money from the drug trade, kidnappings, blackmail and extortion, just like the guerrillas were accused of. So much drug trafficking, they’re also called “narcoparamilitary.” Besides guerrillas (FARC, ELN, ELP), they persecuted leaders of indigenous peoples, peasants and unions – anyone leftist. They got hold of lots of land. Eventually, their only dispute w/ the guerrillas was over control of the drug trade, and there was all-out war between the paramilitaries and the government in the early 1990s; Pablo Escobar died in a gun battle in 1993. In 2003, under Uribe’s presidency, they were dissolved and most surrendered their weapons. Fourteen bosses were extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges on May 13, 2008 for trafficking from jail. Since 2006, some have reconstituted themselves, now termed “bacrim” – bandas de criminales emergentes. Aguilas Negras is one of these.

Comuna 13 was one of the Medellín neighborhoods most affected by La Violencia. I saw what I now think was a photo of it at the airport today – a neighborhood whose hills are reached by long, orange-roofed escalators. The escalators (and the Metrocable) were installed in part to link neighborhoods all the way up the hill, breaking boundaries (,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.48572450,d.dmg&biw=930&bih=431&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=_vnQUa6-NubD4APH3YDYDQ)

Still more importantly, they were installed to link these neighborhoods to the city as a whole, to make it easier to get to work, to school, and to access urban services (and, probably, to police!) The word “integration” is often used – integrating social classes across geographical dividing lines. Similarly, the Alcaldía created its “Program for Peace and Reconciliation of the Subsecretariat of Human Rights” ( ) – to socially reintegrate members of the AUC and guerrilla forces.

It’s for these kinds of projects that Medellín was named “Innovative City of the Year” by the Wall Street Journal, City and the Urban Land Institute.

In the area of Catatumbo, near the Venezuelan border, there are peasant protests against the destruction of the coca fields, demanding peasant reserves and development assistance. This was one of the many areas where paramilitary occupation, from 1999-2004, was followed by military occupation. In the course of their conflict, with guerrilla forces added in, 10,000 were killed, 600 disappeared, and 100,000 were displaced. It’s still not over; in June 2013 four people were killed during protests demanding land. As the region was made increasingly uninhabitable for peasant communities, space was created for petroleum extraction, a likely open-pit coal mining operation, and cacao and palm oil plantations (

One of the consequences of La Violencia has been depopulation of rural areas so they can be opened up to large-scale cash crop production and mineral extraction. The owners win again.

And there is still urban violence. James “Terry” Watson of the Drug Enforcement Agency was killed on June 20 in Bogotá. He’d recently married a Colombian woman. He may have been the victim of a “paseo millonario,” in which people are forced to ride around, often in a taxi, and extract money from their bank accounts with their debit cards (something I was frequently warned of). Or it may have had to do with his work. In late July, six men were extradited to the U.S. to be tried for the crime, under the argument that Watson was a diplomat.

Further references

Cayuqueo, Pedro (2012). Solo por ser indios y otras crónicas mapuches. Santiago de Chile: Catalonia Ltd.

Informe de la Comisión Verdad Histórica y Nuevo Trato con los Pueblos Indígenas (Octubre 2008). Editado por el Comisionado Presidencial para Asuntos Indígenas. Santiago de Chile. Retrieved May 27, 2013 from

Noticias de Pueblos Originarios. Retrieved May 27, 2013 from

Azkintuwe: el periodico del país mapuche. Retrieved May 27, 2013 from

Parlamento de Quilín (1641). (2013, 25 de mayo). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 20:53, mayo 27, 2013 desde

Mapuche. (2013, May 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:16, May 27, 2013, from

            (Seems poorly translated from French.)

Mapuche Times: el periódico internacional. Retrieved  May 27, 2013 from

Las leyes que protegen a nuestros pueblos originarios (29 de junio, 2011). Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. Retrieved May 27, 2013 from

LEY Nº 19.253, LEY INDÍGENA. (28 de septiembre, 1993). Retrieved May 27, 2013 from

Sagamaga Lopez, Rafael (December 27, 2012). Power in Bolivia’s gas-rich Chaco región thrust into indigenous hands. IPS. Retrieved August 4, 2013 from

Ekeko. (2013, June 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:19, July 19, 2013, from

Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989. (2013, April 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:44, July 28, 2013, from,_1989&oldid=552678309

Luna Amancio, Nelly (May 3, 2013). Viceministro de interculturalidad formalizó su renuncia al cargo. El Comercio. Retrieved July 28, 2013 from

Reforma agraria peruana. (2013, 10 de junio). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:48, junio 17, 2013 desde

El proceso de reforma agraria (n.d.). Peru: Ministerio de Agricultura y Riego. Retrieved July 28, 2013 from

Matos Mar, José y Manuel Mejía, Jose (1980). La reforma agraria en el Perú. Instituto de Estudios Peruanos. Retrieved June 16, 2013 from

Burneo, Zulema (2011). The process of land concentration in Peru. The International Land coalition. Retrieved July 28, 2013 from

Shining Path. (2013, July 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:50, July 26, 2013, from

Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (August 28, 2003). Informe Final.

Rafael Correa. (2013, July 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:56, July 29, 2013, from

Propuesta ley orgánica de tierras y territorios. Retrieved July 29, 2013 from

David Suzuki’s Andean Adventure (August 1, 2013). The nature of things, with David Suzuki. Retrieved August 4, 2013 from

Colombian conflict has killed 220,000 in 55 years, commission finds (July 25, 2013). The guardian. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from

Conflicto armado interno en Colombia. (2013, 13 de julio). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 00:00, julio 17, 2013 desde

Vulliamy, Ed (July 9, 2013). Medellín, Colombia: reinventing the world’s most dangerous city. The guardian. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from

Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica

Historia de las AUC:

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. (2013, 11 de julio). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 05:42, julio 16, 2013 desde

Basta ya! Colombia: Memorias de guerra y dignidad (Julio 24, 2013). Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica. Retrieved July 30, 2013 from

Several publications by the Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación (CNRR).

Travels with Jane – Arizona and Sonora

In 1972, Dr. Jane Kelley invited me to accompany her to Tucson, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico as her research assistant. This work was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1978 as Yaqui women: contemporary life histories and in 1982 as Mujeres Yaquis: cuatro biografías contemporáneas by the Fondo de Cultura Económica. I had just completed my first year of university, knew nothing about anthropology, and didn’t have a driver’s license. She drove the whole way from Calgary to Obregón and back, much of it in a truck camper borrowed from her dad, William Curry Holden, in Lubbock, Texas. I loved becoming acquainted with new landscapes and new ways of living, was delighted to be once again in a Spanish-speaking environment, and really enjoyed listening, observing, and writing field notes. Later, when I found I could get academic credit for what I’d always enjoyed most in life, I was hooked.

That’s why I really wanted to retrace my journey with Jane, and I was thrilled that she was willing and able to come. I’d never have been able to find my way back alone. There were differences: this time, I did all but two blocks of the driving! We timed our visit to coincide with Easter (instead of mid-summer), to experience some of the Yaqui observances, and traveled some seven thousand kilometers over eighteen days.

Names and objects that are bolded are photographed, and can be seen at I hope it’s rather fun to open that and look at images while reading!



Scenery and roadways

Domestic settings


Yaqui / Yoeme / Yoreme / Hiaki



The Yaqui valley

Current Yaqui issues

Other friends

Memorable meals


Yaqui – Various

Yaqui water rights

Yaqui Easter


Scenery and roadways

Jane and I really enjoy wide-open spaces and kind of wish we were truckers. Between Calgary and Great Falls, Montana, for instance, terrain is only slightly undulating, except for the Sweetgrass Hills that pop up out of nowhere. Lots of volcanic rock further south, and then pine trees. As we left Butte for Cedar City, Utah, the first hour or two was through gently rising hills. A little snow started blowing across the road, and then we were down to two tracks. It wasn’t particularly dangerous or scary, but I was glad to have snow tires. On our return, the scenery revealed itself to be spectacular. This time, the sun poured through breaks in dramatic cloud formations, sometimes illuminating squalls all the way down to the ground. “Light beaming down from heaven,” said Jane. In the background were higher mountains with brilliant, white, fresh snow. (The sleet only reappeared on the last few miles before Calgary!) I dreaded driving through Salt Lake City but, avoiding rush hour, was able to get into my lane, keep up a steady pace, and be sucked in and shot out the other end. Utah is clean and institutional-looking to me. Buildings are monumental big blocks and cars are very clean.

Going south, we drove through some beautiful canyons down to Las Vegas, less spectacular back up, and then we were into cactus: Joshua Tree, cholla, ocotillo, saguaro, palo verde. Cottonwood trees along riverbanks were just sprouting leaves. On the way to Tucson from Phoenix, we stopped at Casa Grande National Monument, a Hohokam archeological site. Although the caliche and brick buildings were impressive (especially the 4-floor Casa Grande itself []), what I liked as much as anything was the vegetation around it. The cacti smelled so nice, so perfumed! All was quite green, many beginning to bloom, and there was enough moisture to keep it that way. Also, the temperature and humidity were perfectly comfortable: a dry 30 degrees, feeling much cooler. Later, I got to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for lots more cactus! (

Before leaving Phoenix/Tempe, we drove a couple of miles up Priest Street / Avenida del Yaqui through Guadalupe. It looks a lot like Tucson’s Pascua: relatively small bungalows on medium-sized lots, often behind chain-link fences, lining a grid of streets. Quite tidy and nice looking. We found the Yaqui Church right beside the Roman Catholic Church. Its front is wide open; people were inside decorating and, around the big patio in front, puestos were being set up for the sale of food. I think amusement park rides were going up too. I took photos of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, but not the Yaqui one – which forbids photography, anyway. We didn’t hang around long; I certainly could see we were watched. Here’s a picture of the church:

In Old Pascua, the church complex also focuses on the Yaqui Church, in front of which is the large rectangular patio, surrounded by the low buildings of the Cultural Center and puestos. We entered the administrative office, as we were seeking a particular children’s book on Easter. There were beautiful crepe-paper flowers, but no books, though there were old photos of the stages of Easter ceremonies on the wall.

Scattered around the neighborhood, in people’s yards and in empty lots, are white crosses, to be visited by the Easter ceremonial groups. Yards have a few plants and trees, but are mostly bare; this is a place for rakes and brooms, not lawn mowers! Very few houses are more than one story high. Streets are paved, but sidewalks aren’t. Images of the neighborhood in the 1930s and photos of elders can be seen at

Entering Nogales, Mexico on a Monday, we drove across the border, found a parking space (with caretaker) and walked back to have our passports stamped. We were instructed to drive 21 km. for our tourist permit. There, the clerk insisted that, to stay only until the following Monday, seven days later, we didn’t need a permit. However, when we left Mexico, the clerk on duty counted eight days! He let us go – disagreeably! Entering, we needed an Only Sonora car document from Empalme for $55, and I bought Mexican insurance for $139 online before we went.

It was also “fun” entering the States from Mexico. We were in a car line-up for ninety minutes, and were then sent into a windowless room while our car was searched. Only the fact that it was Easter Monday saved us from being fined $300 for failing to declare the apple we forgot we were bringing across the border. After the car was cleaned later that day, another apple rolled out from under the seat and today – another week later – I found a frozen tomato and an avocado!

We had lunch in Magdalena, where the Church of San Francisco Javier is located. The remains of the missionary Padre Kino are there, too. In the sanctuary is the familiar image of Saint Kateri. Under the arcade around the plaza a young boy peeled and cut a mango so it looked like a flower. A woman sold dresses in a shop on the arcade. When I heard her singing, I asked permission to take her photo. Jane found a puesto for a great lunch of quesadilla, grilled peppers, and cebollines.

South of Magdalena, the highway varies from two-lane to construction to four-lane divided, from 40-60-80-110 kph, though it was not difficult driving. There was one long traffic halt in opposite direction – due to an accident?

The divided highway continues most all the way to Obregón. From the highway to Potam, the paved two-lane road has some serious potholes, which I always hit just as I’d relaxed. As soon as we left the paved road into Potam, we were into clouds of extremely fine dust. The village roads are very rough, and I felt very conspicuous driving around in a pretty much dust-proof car while others walked. Most of our participation in Easter observances was in Rahum where, because of salty soil, there is much less dust. The dust of Potam makes a rebozo totally sensible – a way to cover the face and nose to protect oneself! The two (of eight) Yaqui villages are only a few miles apart, and Obregón is about an hour’s drive away.

On the way north, we did not return by Las Vegas. Instead, we left Phoenix for Flagstaff. (I really look forward to returning to visit Sinagua archeological sites!) We climbed way up from Phoenix, through lots of yellow wildflowers and beyond, to where pine forests start, then into Red Rock State Park (

There are beautiful red cliffs, green new leaves or evergreens, occasional purple – the latter on domesticated blooming trees, but a marvellous contrast. On to Sedona, crystal and retirement heaven (says Jane), just gorgeous colors, expensive, exclusive, hard to reach, all beautiful construction. Normal people live out of sight, I suppose. There was a nice shopping centre of Starbucks, artisan breads, jewelry and art galleries. There wasn’t a Latino in sight.

Oak Creek Canyon Road goes up the valley in switchbacks, reminiscent of the Rockies, trees, streams, rivers, stones. At the top is Oak Creek Vista, huge canyon views, fresh air smell, and Native American traders with jewelry.

We went downtown to Old Flagstaff looking for Rachelle (?) Running, who has been in Chihuahua with Jane. We missed her but found a gallery selling a tomato-leaf scented candle I got for Scott Johnson! Had breakfast the next morning at the 1960s style Galaxy Diner, and on to Vermillion Cliffs, beautifully cut out of the hills by the river. Loved the Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon. Then up to Jacob Lake Lodge, at 7980 feet, in a great pine forest. To Zion National Park, with great stirring formations of sandstone, like frosting. Only there did we begin to run into people. I really want to go spend some time in this region! (

Domestic settings

It took us some doing to find Juana Choqui’s house in Potam. In front of a grocery store, we met two men: one said the house was 2 blocks this way, 3 blocks up; the other said it was 3 blocks this way, 2 blocks up. When we got “there”, we recognized it, but it took me almost until we left to know for certain where I was. (Turn right at the intersection before the church yard and drive 4 or 5 blocks. It’s the house on the corner with a parking area in front of the ramada.)

The houses are open to the elements and permeated by dust. There are no hermetically sealed dwellings; dust is life, and sweeping and washing are constant activities, immediately undone. As we talked about it, Jane and I realized that the community, including Juana’s house, is in worse shape now than it was in 1972. She had a small shop in the front room; gone now. The fridge works, but there is a propane stove inside that isn’t used – probably no money to buy propane. The framework of the ramada is vertical logs with a fork at the top. Logs are strung horizontally along the forks; plywood or petate roofing over that. The ramada has plywood on one end wall and on a portion of one side, and plastic sheeting tacked along a third wall. This is about to be taken down for the hot season, to allow a breeze through.

The furniture in the ramada is all hand-made: crudely constructed but functional tables, benches and chairs. By “crude” I mean very simple, with no braces. Dishes are kept on shelves nailed onto the frame of the ramada. They’re washed and left to drain on a flat surface. A cupboard holds pots and pans. From nails into the frame hang baskets and cans containing kitchen utensils, straight razors, toothbrushes, plastic bags, etc. There is also a washing machine by the back door of the house; it is filled and emptied of water manually, through hoses. The boys take care of a lot of that. I saw no television or radio, but the boys had cell phones and facebook accounts.

There is a cement basin with a washboard, and several water containers, including the tank of what was once a ringer-washing machine. A glass is used to take water from the containers to where it is needed. (I watched Román Jr. hold a glass of water in his hands and tip it so it rinsed them both at once, an improvised faucet.)  I don’t think this water is used for drinking or cooking. I know when we took water to the fariseos in Rahum, it was a large jug of purified water from the store, purchased for 10 pesos. On the tables were plastic table cloths, and a special covering for Sábado de Gloria. This was a six-metre cloth Juana hand-embroidered for one of her granddaughters.

I’m almost forgetting the separate structure used as a bedroom by the boys. It’s got nice beds, a well-sealed cement floor and well-laid bricks. It was built as part of a government project.

Juana’s ramada has two cooking stoves. One is made of clay. The other is made of two metal wash basins joined at the rim, with a thick U-shaped ring of clay on top. The fire is inside this ring, branches resting on a two-legged metal platform extending in front of the stove. On the clay ring are two metal rods, crosswise, capable of rolling off but meant to hold pots or a comal. Branches are pushed inside as they burn down.

Outside Diana’s back door was a propane stove with a similar clay ring on top of it; wood is burned on the top surface. She also had a gas stove indoors, in the kitchen, and it was used. Teresa has a propane stove in her house, but she does all her cooking at her mother’s. The young men living there both require care and provide help. She and I laughed often once I told her how disconcerted I was when I first heard her and Juana speak of all the young men as “los plebes” – the plebeians – rather than “the kids”, “the boys”, etc.

Like Juana’s house, Diana’s is made of brick covered w/ plaster. Half of Teresa’s is made like this, but the other half is of carrizo, reeds laid horizontally and sometimes plastered with mud. Her house is one-room, perhaps 20’x20’, about the size of her mother’s ramada. (The roof is made of what? Metal? Where does she get water?) In the house are a double bed and a sofa. She and her daughter Judith sleep there, while her adolescent son Vinicio usually sleeps at Juana’s, which is three houses away. Husband Vicente goes to work at a mine near Hermosillo for ten days at a time. We didn’t see much of him, but on Saturday afternoon, his wife was washing his jeans so he could go back to work on Monday.

In all cases, paint is way worn out. Yards are bare of vegetation except for a few trees. I saw no kitchen gardens in the area, and only a few lilies and shrubs growing at a company farm.

Both Juana and Teresa have outhouses. (Diana almost certainly, too, but I didn’t see it.) Juana’s has a door barely hanging onto the hinges, propped semi-closed by a piece of wood hanging on by a nail. There is a gap between the wooden box seat and the hole into the ground; aim carefully to avoid splashes!

The poorer houses in the Yaqui pueblos are those made of carrizo with doors of blankets or carpets, not wood or metal (though sometimes these buildings are outhouses). I found it hard to believe people live in some of them – perched by the side of the road, too poor to have anything to lose. I could see them as guard shacks or outhouses, but not homes – yet they are. By the highway and railway tracks nearer to Obregón are shacks of the same dimensions, though made of hard material.

Straw bale houses are being put up by a government project near Potam. There are concerns that they won’t be waterproof and won’t last, and will require money to seal the exterior, but from what I could learn online, they could work fine. Straw houses don’t need waterproofing plaster, rather, they need to breathe. Still, the straw mustn’t get wet, and cracks must be sealed. The houses will have solar panels to power electric lights, and biodigesting septic tanks will produce fertilizer and grey water for gardens. The nineteen houses are being built by the Comisión de Ecología del Estado de Sonora.

Construye CEDES 19 casas ecológicas para familias Yaquis en Potam (March 29, 2013). In Retrieved April 8, 2013 from

In Cocorit, we briefly visited the Yaqui Museum. The building was once a gobernación. There were exhibits of Yaqui artifacts, but I don’t think much controversial historical material. We looked around very little, because the front entry was crammed with people there for a tour. We entered through the back, and were gathered up by young people I’d bet were tourism students. They were dressed in shirts with flowers embroidered on them, wore name tags, and were excessively polite – almost smotheringly so, while being unable to listen.

“We’re parked over there.”

“Oh, I’ll take you to the exit that will take you closest to your car.”

“No, we’re parked on the other side.”

“Oh, I didn’t understand!”

The core of Pancha’s house in Torim is brick, with a dirt floor. It is surrounded by three large carrizo ramadas, open rooms. Just like Juana’s ramada in every other way, this house had some plastic chairs. Pancha also had an apparatus that holds large water bottles so they can be tipped and will pour.


Yaqui / Yoeme / Yoreme / Hiaki


Arriving in Tucson, we drove straight up Highway 10 to Grant Street, and made our first stop in Pascua, at the home of Agustina. She is a sister of Juana Romero and Carmen Ochoa, the one who was known to use makeup, care for her appearance, earn an income, and have no tolerance for drugs or drinking. Now in her eighties, her nails and hair are still very well cared for, though thin; she wears an “Oriental” barrette in her hair, and cabinets contain Japanese porcelain dolls. They are seriously beautiful. The paint job in the house is not at all bad, furniture is in really good shape, all clean, polished, and well cared for. There’s a big flat-screen TV tuned to a Spanish-language station. Her son has retired as a fireman. His son is a violinist who went to Boston to study, but has returned because it’s just too expensive. Her daughter, Thelma, is a police officer. She’s married – just – having lived with the guy for 14 years. Thelma had a narrow escape when blood clots formed after surgery, so the couple invited the family to Las Vegas supposedly to celebrate the violinist’s 21 birthday, but actually to attend their wedding!

When we went to pick her up the next day, Agustina came out the kitchen door immediately, grabbing the cane that hangs just outside, eager to hit the road! Her hair was fixed up, make-up fresh. She once broke a leg, has a bit of diabetes, some blood pressure and cholesterol problems, but overall is just fine and has a great appetite. Her doctor says she should live with one of her children, which she’s avoiding. In the old days, she wouldn’t go to fiestas because of the drinking and because she was Baptist. Now the Pascolas expel any drunks, and she even enjoys gambling. She worked most of her adult life in medical records, probably adding to the perception of her as serious.

Jane and Agustina directed me out to New Pascua and back. (By the end of the day I almost know my way!). Agustina pointed out the nice houses, some new – others boarded up, emptied of drug dealers by Tribal Council. She was surprised there were so many of those in one area. She also pointed to the health center. Not only do they have medical imaging, e.g. MRIs, but also alternative healing by “curanderas del otro lado,” i.e. from Mexico. They practice massage, use herbs and prepare ointments. There are seniors’ facilities, a residence, and a place where they can go for meals.

The three of us went for lunch to Casino del Sol of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe: It has a hotel of about ten storeys, and is huge. There is also the large outdoor Anselmo Valencia Amphitheater, which hosts acts like Tony Bennett, Il Divo, and the Tucson International Mariachi Festival. The Casino interior is very high-ceilinged and the lighting looks a bit like the night sky – or is it the daytime sky? – light blue, an indeterminate, could-be-anytime color. Smoking is allowed, and there is a great deal of it, but there must be good ventilation, as it doesn’t seem to hang around. There are countless slot machines, gaming tables, a huge bingo hall with bingo monitors (instead of the old paper cards), a poker room. The parking lot covers acres, with hundreds of stalls for the handicapped. There is valet parking, but I wanted to park myself just to see what it was like. Agustina marched us right by the Festa buffet, La Abuelita’s Mexican Food, a sushi place and a pub until we reached Moby’s, a throwback to California surfing in the 1960s. She was also proud to find me a Starbucks.

We visited the cemetery in New Pascua to seek the grave of Anselmo Valencia. Although his name isn’t on it, there is a mound of earth many times higher than that of any other grave in the place. In front of that large mound was another with three arches over it, each wrapped in yellow/gold/orange fabric. A hand-lettered sign read “Itom Pa”, translated as “our father.” We were told the pioneers of New Pascua are interred here. This cemetery lacks large tombs, and there is lots of color due to wreaths around the white crosses and pots of real and artificial flowers on the ground. We spoke with one family that had studded the earth over their mother’s grave with artificial flowers. I felt a little more awkward here than I usually do in cemeteries, partly because it’s in the middle of a restricted community, not beside a public road like so many others.

On Palm Sunday, I dropped off Agustina and Jane at the church in Pascua, and returned to park the car in her yard. I should have taken lawn chairs and an umbrella for them! Women in the street wore bright satin dresses and rebozos (shawls); they were all cantoras.

Pascolas and the venado were in the ramada (a roofed shelter) w/ violins and drums. (Venado is the deer dancer; Pascola are seen by some as the hosts of Pascua, or Easter. In that ramada, young boys were outfitted in capes and bowler hats. An adult man lectured them until a procession emerged. As young children (angelitos) arrived with their padrinos (godparents) to escort Jesus, they had to beat off chapayecas. (Chapayecas are Yaqui fariseos, representing the Roman infantrymen and other evil forces responsible for crucifying Jesus.) Older men carried the Jesus image on their shoulders, and were followed by women carrying the three Marys. Chapayecas emerged and formed up first, on the sides of courtyard. They wore fantastic masks – many literally fantasy, others animals, a few long-nosed boss-men or diablos. Most wore the traditional blanket costume; diablos wore suit jackets. They beat time by clacking their daggers (left hand) on their swords (right hand), punctuated w/ ankle and waist rattles. Caballeros represent the Roman cavalry, and wear white cowboy hats. (In Sonora, some are literally “a caballo,” on horseback.)  The procession went from the church building to the far end of the yard to pick up a large bundle of palm leaves, and back to the church. After prayer, the caballeros distributed palm leaves, forcing them into the back pockets of chapayecas. Whenever church bells rang, chapayecas writhed in pain and covered their ears.

The crowd included people of all ages, speaking more English than Spanish. They were very polite, saying “Excuse me” whenever passing nearby, and making much use of garbage cans. I had a chat with Amanda, who has moved home from San Diego with her children to care for her sick father and inherit his reservation house. She works in preventative health and there is more work here than in California. I also met Diego, born and raised in Tucson. He lives in Phoenix, and came to Tucson for a job that didn’t work out, so he’s camping. One of his wives was Yaqui; he learned some Yoeme with her. He was looking for his grandchildren.

When I found Jane and Agustina, they’d decided to go “to Carmen’s” to eat. Asking the way, I was directed “to Carmen-Olivia’s”. Carmen was a sister of Agustina’s, and one of Jane’s friends; she died three years ago, in her nineties. Her house is across from the church complex. Her husband Pancho was active in the ceremonial societies, and Juana cooked for the fiestas. Olivia is one of their daughters. As I approached the house, she greeted me from her seat in a wheelchair. She remembers Jane, and maybe me. She learned to cook from her mother, and also cooks for fiestas. “How can you cook from a wheelchair?” I asked. “Oh, I’m just resting!” she said. Olivia served us delicious Indian Tacos. Her assistant and apprentice was her niece Toni, daughter of Olivia’s sister Betty. I took photos of photos of Carmen, Pancho, etc.

Carmen had six children. Betty admits she was particularly nasty to her mother while growing up, was a drug addict and alcoholic and likely abusive and learning disabled. Still, it was she who kept her mother’s house, though she says she wants to move out, as she perceives bad feelings from Carmen because she was so mean to her. She lives with her two daughters and their spouses (and Toni’s six year-old son), her sister Olivia, and perhaps others. Not all necessarily share the same small house; they’ve built other structures in the yard. The house was tidied for visitors; kids’ toys were piled in bins. Toni spoke of dysfunctional “families today.” About 25, she misses her Nana Carmen, and thought she’d live forever. Her partner is Thomas. He told Jane he was the son of a big dope dealer, raised by his grandmother, danced chapayeca, spent 12 years in jail for murder, and killed people in front of their grandmothers. However, he found Jesus just before a trial a year ago, was let off, and is being baptized tonight. It seems Carmen was the grandmother of both Toni and Thomas, but they had different grandfathers.

Attached to the front door of one house was the large wooden silhouette of a deer dancer. The house is that of Manuela, cousin of Agustina. Her house is the reconstruction of one that was destroyed a decade ago. Manuela got up at 5 a.m. to make coffee for household members who were going to work, and found the fire burning in the storage room. She got out her two little grandchildren and then woke the rest – her daughter, who thought she was kidding, and her son, who was in the shower. The roof collapsed as he was escaping.

Manuela asked Jane for genealogical information, having lost a pamphlet Rosario gave her. (Rosario was the man at the source of the Holden’s contact with the Yaqui.) Manuela wanted the name of her great grandmother, which Jane later remembered is Viviana. Jane has given all the genealogical data to the Administration of the Yaqui Tribe in New Pascua. Manuela’s mother was Mexican. Also at Manuela’s was Mary, perhaps related through her husband. Agustina shared with these women that she was in the hospital with strokes on Christmas and again on New Year’s, indicating they may not see each other often. Manuela spoke of someone else very ill with cancer – a son, we think. Doctors say they’ve lost all his medical records. He’s refusing to start over, to have all the tests and chemotherapy again. Living with Manuela is her husband, an amputee in a wheelchair. He greeted us warmly on arriving and leaving, but I don’t know his name.

.           On the walls were photos of lovely daughters and granddaughters. Like Agustina’s, this house has a cabinet with a number of large dolls, these with brown skin and Native American Indian regalia. They’re very well done. Also like Agustina’s, the house is spacious, clean, and well cared-for. We sat on a large L-shaped leather sofa. There was a huge TV on the wall, not turned on.


In a large older building in downtown Hermosillo is a store selling indigenous crafts ( ), many of them Yaqui: embroidery, baskets, rebozos, masks – pascola, chapayeca, fariseo – Yaqui dolls. It is owned by professional women who buy crafts from aboriginal women, returning them the profits. I learned that ankle rattles are made of cocoons and belt rattles of deer or pig hooves.

The Hermosillo Yaqui barrio of La Matanza is around the other side of Cerro de la Campana from downtown. We sought Catalina Wong, an elderly woman Jane hadn’t seen in forty years. With Lupita driving, we followed a road circling the hill; there are some pretty poor houses, but not dreadful. Twice we drove a block up the hill and Jane went into a yard in search of an older woman, who then sent us up another street. Finally, one sent us to a taller metalúrgico, a metal workshop, and that was it! A lady at the soda shop immediately showed us to the right house.

Catalina’s mother married a Chinese man with whom she had two daughters, Magdalena and Catalina. Wong was arrested in the early 1930s and never seen again, likely deported. Catalina’s daughter Chavela died a couple of years ago; she’d had a mastectomy, and years later something affected her breathing. They were going to perform a tracheotomy, but she died under anesthetic.

When Magdalena came back from Tucson, where she’d been cooking, she was already ill. “Murió de pena”; she was taken to the hospital for a leg amputation, which she didn’t want, and had three heart attacks, which caused her death.

Catalina’s adolescent great-grandson pulled out chairs for us to sit on in the shade of a tree. (In the old days, someone would have sent for soda and cookies.) Two little boys, Jorge (6) and his brother Fabián (3) came out in paper chapayeca masks. Both had the steps down pat, knew not to talk while wearing the mask, and to lie on the ground when putting it on. Jorge had a rattle belt, and knew how to move his hips. Fabián did not have rattles, but he came out with the dagger and sword and knew to beat time by hitting the sword with the dagger!

Catalina’s remaining daughter came out, as did the daughter of one of her sons. Daisy is the mother of the two boys and another, twelve. He made the masks for his younger brothers. They’ve learned steps by watching the velorio, the all-night fariseo dancers. Several sons and grandsons passed through the yard, all stopping to shake our hands. Catalina’s sons do the metalworking, making gates and fences and such.

            The Yaqui valley

Juana’s house in Potam has changed a little. Where we parked the camper in 1972, there is now a big ramada with three walls and a roof. The main activity when we arrived the Wednesday before Easter was to prepare three young men to spend the next four days as fariseos. Living with Juana are the three sons of Guadalupe, who was thirteen when she showed me around the Easter Fiesta in Potam in 1983. She lives in Nogales with her husband and her two daughters. The boys are in Potam because there they have access to Yaqui scholarships; they also claim to like the pueblo better than the city. I don’t think they’ve been in Potam always, but they do call Juana “Ma” or “Ama,” and call their mother by name.

Rafael is the second of Guadalupe’s sons. He is about to do University entrance exams. He wants to go into business management, “para levanter a la gente.” “Cuál gente?” “El pueblo Yaqui.”(To raise up the Yaqui people.)  He’s a maestro, a religious specialist, and already knows all the prayers and songs in Spanish, Yaqui and Latin. He brought out handwritten books of songs and prayers – a Gregorian chant he sang for us. Rafael gave Jane an embroidered cloth, and me a rosary he made. He took me to see the blessing over his headboard – a Yaqui version of a crucifix. He is one of the fariseos coming out of this household.

Iván is the youngest of Guadalupe’s boys. He didn’t say much our first day; it felt like a question of seniority. He wears long spikes through his earlobes, taking them out for the days of Easter celebrations. He’s teased for being a city boy. People usually call him “Cuate,” as he’s Yvonne’s twin. Guadalupe had no idea she was having twins until she was giving birth to them! They were born full-term, weighing 3 kg each. He puts a lot of work into scrubbing clothes and shoes, and I found him really polite and helpful.

Román is the eldest of the brothers. Because of the demands of his schooling, he decided he couldn’t take time off to be a fariseo. He’s in the first year of a computer engineering program at a technical institute in Vicam. He’s learning some of the language, though he’ll never be fluent. Here they’re taught the real history of “la tribu.” A bilingual Yaqui teaches a course on Valores Yaquis. Thus, when Juana spoke of how something is said in “el dialecto,” Román objected. “Es una lengua, no un dialecto!” (“It’s a language, not a dialect!”)

Also staying at Juana’s were the sons of her son Claudio, Rubén and César, at least until the latter took up his fariseo duties. They normally live with their mother, Piedad, in Empalme. Claudio came in from Baja California for the holiday. The parents have separated, and he has a new wife in Puerto Peñasco, where he teaches. The boys seem to all congregate at Juana’s. Perhaps it’s because there are no adult men living there; they can be grown-ups.

I didn’t get much of a chance to visit with César, as he went off for his fariseo duties. He’s been a pascola, and has made a nine-year vow as a fariseo. This was his fourth or fifth year.

Rubén arrived from Empalme shortly after us. He’s going to school there, taking economics (which, he has discovered, is very political). He is padrino (godfather) for his cousin Rafael. As needed over the next few days, he’ll be supplying him with some food and water, picking up pieces of regalia Rafael is to discard when they’re running on Saturday, and escort him through the reintegration ceremonies of the last day. Teresa, Juana’s youngest, is Rafael’s madrina (godmother).

Rubén is very smart and well-spoken. He has a Chilean friend from whom he has learned a whole lot, especially about Chilean vocabulary and accent. Obviously they’ve spent a long time on Skype. He knew many Chilean expressions: the way in which we speak of “la Jane” and “el Rubén” with those articles, the same way Yaquis tend to. We say “harto,” “al tiro,” and “sí, po.” The friend was going to come for a visit, but that’s off now.

Then there was Cruz, the wife of Prisciliano, Juana’s eldest son. She runs a soup kitchen for a dozen elderly people. A government organization supplies food she supplements with vegetables from village stores. She sent a young boy – her grandson? – to her home a block away to get some empanadas de cajete, which were really good. Two of Cruz’s daughters visited as well. Mónica is a dyed blond, and her daughter is Rafael’s goddaughter. The girl carried with her two blond Barbie dolls. Mónica has a son, who seemed a several years older than his little sister. I think Mónica was César’s madrina; she helped carry one of the Marys once. Alma sat by Rubén on a bench against the wall – by which I mean she sat among the young men, and participated actively in the political conversation

As we sat there, Rafael altered a white belt to go with his regalia, punching in new holes, using leather-making tools, grommets and such. Teresa’s son Vinicio was replacing the leather laces of his huaraches, strung through holes on soles which are bought ready-made. He used needle-nosed pliers to stretch the loops of lace to pull the ends through. (I just mentioned to Jane that, thinking through this scene, I realized what was lacking: an adult male to tell the guys how to do what, and remind them to put the tools away. “They’re the men of the household,” she said. They know where the tools are, how to use them and where they belong.)

None of these guys was being “mummied,” either. They’re taking responsibility for their own participation in the fiesta. They’ll spend four days sleeping out of doors, not allowed to use blankets, eating when they’re lucky, spending most nights awake. They’ll end up exhausted, and with strong bonds to their fellow soldados, weeping as they say goodbye. They know that they may not all be together next year; stuff happens.

Claudio, father of Rubén and César, was the first Yaqui we met who had read Mujeres Yaquis. He particularly liking Jane’s account of the life of Matilde, his father’s mother. Getting a copy is hard; we hope to be able to scan it. Claudio teaches school, and especially likes teaching history. He and his brothers were particularly interested in what we could tell them about Canada’s temporary foreign workers program. Claudio feels that one reason there has been little progress in the Yaqui Valley is because authorities demand a cut. A maquila wanted to come into Vicam, but they wouldn’t allow it because there was nothing in it for them. His recipe for raising children with positive attitudes is to provide them with a good example.

Guadalupe arrived from Nogales early Good Friday morning. She came with her husband, Román, their daughters Yvonne and Clarissa, and Clarissa’s husband and two sons, one a two-month old baby. Guadalupe remembers our time together 30 years ago, and that we wrote to each other for a while, until I got married. I sent her a wedding photo. She works in a maquila in Nogales, as does her husband. It’s not great work, not well paid, but is steady. Conditions, pay, benefits and holidays depend a lot on whether one is on permanent contract and whether the place is unionized – something the maquilas try to avoid. Román is trying to get a visa to go “al otro lado” – to the other side. They own their house in Nogales, and are paying for another in Obregón.

Two more sons of Juana arrived on Saturday. Juan Antonio lives in Nogales, and came with his wife Gloria. He has a water purification business there. The process requires putting the water through a number of specialized filters. He was dressed in polished black shoes – with all that dust. Carlos lives in Puerto Lobo and is a fisherman. His wife is Rosa. He’s a son from Cresencio’s first marriage.

Going back to Juana’s home was the best kind of going back in time. It was so comfortable and the hospitality so warm, the interest in us and the desire to share with us were terrific. They brought out things to show us, such as the deer head that is used by a deer dancer, wearing a purple scarf of mourning during Holy Week, changed into bright colors on Sunday. There were pascola masks, one old, modeled on a goat, the other newer, a dog. I was allowed to photograph them. It’s OK if it’s on an exhibit, not OK if it’s in ceremony.

In, Tonatiuh Castro Silva of the Unidad Regional de Culturas Populares in Sonora explains that the Easter celebrations involve a re-enactment of the capture, death and resurrection of Christ, in a dramatic form developed by Jesuits to communicate the story to Yaquis. There are participants on the side of good, among them the angels and cantoras, and those on the side of the bad, the fariseos (chapayecas), who represent Roman soldiers and Jews implicated in the death of Jesus. Their responsibility is particularly heavy, as they must represent evil in the name of good. They are to keep a rosary in their mouths always while wearing masks (hence can’t speak, but communicate by gestures) and, being basically good, wear a white shirt and white trousers under the other clothing. The mask and headpiece are worn so that they may represent evil while not being evil, and the paraphernalia is burned at the end to remove all trace of that danger. This is also the reason for the blessing and purification rituals at the end of the ceremonies, the covering with beautiful flowered scarves, receiving new rosaries, being blessed by godparents, to be able to come back to the secular world uncontaminated.

I’m still not clear on the role and identity of the caballeros, the guys in white or bowler hats.

On Wednesday, Juana and Teresa were busy preparing capirotada, a dish that’s eaten only in Holy Week, perhaps especially for sending young men in to fulfill their Easter mandas. It’s a cross between bread pudding and a protein bar. It’s made in huge vats for the apóstoles tomorrow, in the re-enactment of the Last Supper

The basic ingredients carry a rich symbolism to the Passion of Christ, and the dish is viewed by many Mexican and Mexican-American families as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. The bread is for the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the raisins are the nails of the cross, and the whole cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross. The melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud.

Capirotada. (2013, March 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:37, March 29, 2013, from has a good recipe, I think. It uses a sharper cheese than Juana’s queso fresco, which has little salt and a mild flavour. Her ingredients include toasted, buttered rolls, syrup made of piloncillo with water, cinnamon and cloves, prunes and raisins just like the others – but she adds sliced bananas, peanuts, and Nestle’s Quik powder. Also, hers is stirred on top of the stove rather than baked in the oven.

Women’s participation in the ceremonies is fairly limited. One of the women – Alma, I think – made as if to put on a chapayeca mask, but was prevented from it. Women can’t put on masks! And there are no women’s roles (or representations of them, e.g. in masks or costumes) on the side of the “bad.” They are cantoras, they carry the Marys, they are madrinas, they decorate the bier where Jesus is laid, and they cook. Cantoras are on duty for days. Maestros, all men, lead the songs, and there are some for every occasion. Cantoras keep up a response. It’s not exactly a harmony, but more an off-key, off-beat accompaniment. Between processions, they relax inside the church, catching sleep when they can. Other people sit and stand around the walls of the church, while children play tag.

Teresa was absolutely stellar in her efforts to ensure Jane and I were in the best possible places to observe the Easter ceremonies. In Rahum on Holy Thursday, she and Alma took us into the church, where the various images were awaiting processions. In the center of the church, Jesus was praying in Gethsemane; hence tree branches adorned columns around the church. Two men with rifles pointed at the ground stood guard over His image.

Outside, the fariseos got to their feet, once they’d put on their masks. They’d been lying under a ramada in front of the church. They may not greet any women during the days of the rituals; one of the first tasks was to find a young man to take them a jug of water. The fariseos took off at a trot to the home of the gobernador, where a dozen children, the Apostles, were being fed a dozen different dishes. They were in the company of the man who would represent El Viejito, Jesus. There were also cantoras and maestros present, as well as all the religious authorities, through whose hands must pass all the food on the way to the apostles. This is the Last Supper.

Teresa, Alma and I walked there following cantoras dressed in brilliant blue, turquoise, lavender and purple satin skirts and rebozos. (I would have loved that photo!) When the chapayecas left to take possession of the crosses around the church, and we followed. Teresa and the other woman tried to explain to me what was going on, but it was tough; they’d say, “See that one?” and I never knew just whom they were referring to, because which of those six was it? The women of our group took over the outside front of the church, but as they all talked and joked among themselves, I understood almost nothing.

Women like Juana embroider the cloths that are used. She was in charge of the urnia in Rahum and was madrina to someone in Vicam. The urnia is the canopied platform, representing the grotto, on which Christ is placed on Friday, after he is taken down from the cross. The bedding is white, and the canopy is of white netting. To it are attached artificial flowers edged in glitter, topped by a flower crown and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. While hanging on the cross, He was dressed in a purple skirt that looked just like those worn by cantoras. The skirt was removed, revealing a loincloth, and he was covered in a white shroud (also provided by Juana) before being placed under the canopy.

In the church, three rectangular boxes full of dirt (reminiscent of flower boxes) are placed before the urnia. People come to pray before it and place lighted candles in the earth. The urnia is taken out for more processions during the night. After the final one, at 3 a.m., He is resurrected, and the Sábado de Gloria begins.

This sets off the dramatic celebration of the triumph of good over evil, and reclaiming the chapayecas, who have taken the risk of representing evil in order that it might be vanquished. Rubén and Teresa went to look for their ahijado, Rafael. They fastened a colorful scarf on each of his arms. (This would be sort of taking possession of him, for good.) Teresa made sure Jane and I were well situated inside the church, with a chair by the pillar. Fariseos were outside the church, on the other side of lines drawn with ash. Inside the church were maestros and cantoras. They went outside, knelt and prayed by the green Cross of Repentance, then came back into the church. They were followed by caballeros, who approached a purple curtain strung across the church many times, taking eight stomping paces forwards, ten shorter paces back. Each time, the caballero commanders touched the curtain with their swords. A flute played, the chapayeca kept time with his dagger and sword, and the caballeros’ sandaled feet slapped the floor. Three times, the maestros made a gesture and bells rang; everyone ran out the church door, then turned and raced back in. I do not know what was going on outside the church. The first time, chapayecas gave up a sandal or two; the second time, they gave up their belts and rattles. (I don’t know about swords.) On the third entry, they gave up their masks. A huge crowd of padrinos and fariseos filled the church, to persignarse (cross themselves). As they left the church, the fariseos’ heads were covered with the scarves. Firecrackers went off and the Judas figure was burned. A venado danced, accompanied by the violin, a water drum (half a gourd in water) and rasps held on a dry half-gourd. The musicians also sang the deer song. I saw a Yaqui harp and guitars, but got to hear them very little. Teresa asked me to get a bottle of water for Rafael.

All made their way to the ramadas at the other end of the church yard, where the deer dancer would be all night long. We took Teresa and Rubén back to Potam. As Jane looked for Natalia or Raquel in Potam, I watched the Judas effigy burn, and the guys in cars around me drinking beer. (Elsewhere in Mexico, Elba Esther Gordillo was burned as a “Judas” effigy. The leader of the national teachers’ union was arrested in February for using union funds to pay for her luxury homes and plastic surgery.)

On Easter morning, Jane and I packed the car to turn north. After Iván helped me empty out the back seat, we drove him and Guadalupe from Potam to Rahum. Iván and I watched the burning of almost all the chapayeca masks and swords. (A couple are kept in case of deaths; the deceased wear a mask at the wake.) The masks are all stacked together, and burning starts with some kindling and firecrackers in the midst. I moved back as others did, to be safe. It is said that chapayecas often weep as they see the fire, because they work hard to make their masks and have a great deal of emotional investment in wearing them, with their comrades.

Teresa sent Jane and me indoors to be near the front of the church for the ritual of blessing the fariseos and all participants. Each fariseo is flanked by his godparents, and two lines of trios form in the church, one along each wall. The chapayecas’ heads are now covered by two bright headscarves, probably one from each godparent. They escort the fariseo to the altar. The padrino is on the right, and places a rosary around his neck; the padrinos trade sides so the madrina can place a rosary; they switch sides once more, and the padrino forces the fariseo’s head down three times, to touch the altar cloth which a maestro lifts. They then go to cross themselves at the many saints, then outside, where the fariseo can put on his sandals and uncover his head, though he keeps the scarves around his neck. There is a long wait before everyone has been through to be “persignarred,” and this is followed by thanking the padrinos and families. Or maybe it’s the families thanking the padrinos. A maestro makes a speech (incomprehensible from a distance) thanking the padrinos, and then the family members and fariseos go down the line / around the circle, shaking hands and promising to meet again next year.

We then went back to the house, driving Guadalupe, Teresa and Iván, and hung around only a little while before leaving. I think we were all glad that Jane and I had returned one last time, to wrap things up. Guadalupe said that, last night, Iván was really sad we were leaving. Today he said he wished I’d come back next year to be his madrina. Guadalupe and Juana said they’d dress us like Yaqui women, with embroidered skirt and blouse, not that Guadalupe dresses like that!

Juana was at Potam rather than Rahum on Saturday, as she was madrina for someone there. When we saw her, later, at home, she was wearing a bright green embroidered skirt and blouse – bright colors for the Gloria. Lots of women were dressed in traditional clothing today, with full skirts and blouses. A lace overskirt often covers the embroidered one, muting it. They wear embroidered rebozos over their shoulders or heads. Women’s ordinary, modern clothing is jeans and tee shirts. Men wear cowboy clothing: jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy hats (usually light straw), and often very fancy boots.

People here in the Rio Yaqui, say the ceremonies are maintained most traditionally, with the least change. In Hermosillo, there is much more variation, different practices, costumes and rules. And in Arizona, they’re 3-4 generations away. Jane pointed out how much further everyone involved in the processions has to go in the pueblos of the Yaqui Valley vs. in Tucson. It Tucson, the church complex is the size of a small city block. Here, it’s acres and much more dusty! Even in the eight pueblos, the procedure is not identical from one place to the next. In Torim, we saw men with swords on horseback (caballeros) hauling a burro around town on the end of a rope. A cow was tethered to a post in the middle of the church yard, to be sacrificed to feed people on Saturday. There would be another for Sunday. And the schedule of events in Potam is somewhat different from Rahum, which was great, allowing us to see some of each. There were matachines in Potam, but not in Rahum. Much is duplicated in Potam because the community of Huirivis has been appended to it. The grounds in Tórim are unusual, in that the church is on top of a small hill, next to a building that is said to be Spanish.

The state of Sonora makes good use of Yaqui motifs on commercial and tourist materials, museums, etc. There is also a Hotel Yori in Obregón – “Yori” means “non-Yaqui,” usually “white person.” We saw almost no one we could identify as tourists at the fiestas in the Yaqui Valley, though there were visitors returning home (like Guadalupe and family). In Tucson, there were lots of spectators from outside at the ceremonies, and we’re told that in Hermosillo, photography and filming of the Easter celebrations is permitted. See, for instance, or (Rahum was so much more serious, so much less spectator-oriented!) The most informative videos are at, though they are in Spanish.

The Yaqui are fond of Jesuits, who came here to preach to them and grasped that the Yaqui gods were really versions of the Christian deities. The young men are all quite devoted to their religion and take their vows seriously. For a month, they can’t talk to women from outside (not including us, apparently). During our visit, they were enjoying their last minutes on cell phones. Rafa has a girlfriend; how will she feel during these days?

Ruben says Yaqui communities have two sets of hierarchies, one secular, the other religious. They’re complementary, not in opposition, not separate. During the Cuaresma, the religious one has the authority, and it is the religious one that legitimizes the political. The official titles used in the religious hierarchy are similar to Roman ones, and were introduced by the Jesuits.

A Franciscan priest spends time in the villages, and is responsible for all the Indians of this part of Sonora. On one corner of the church property in Potam is a building that belongs to the Catholic Church. There were a couple of dozen young people around in yellow tee-shirts, engaged in a retreat and their own Easter celebration. They work in their worship around the Yaquis, moving into the church when it’s not being used. There isn’t conflict, we’re told. There was no priest anywhere near the Rahum rituals.

Many men ride bicycles. There were also several men on horseback on Saturday, one practicing a lovely prancing-in-place move on a beautiful grey horse. It looks like holidays are when one takes out a horse to show off, for recreation, to ride around. Women ride neither horse nor bike. In front of a botillería on main street is always a collection of men drinking beer.

Diana, who also lives in Potam, is a niece of Cresencio, Juana’s late husband. Diana is the daughter of his sister Herminia. She was raised by Matilde, the mother of Herminia and Cresencio; they knew a lot of hunger and cold. I met Diana in Tucson at the house of Agustina when I went there to retrieve my car, as she was looking for Agustina and Jane. Her house is a corner store, with slot machines and a juke box under the porch. She’s probably in her late forties, and was widowed in about 2000 when she had five children. In addition to the store, she travels to Tucson regularly to sell Yaqui women’s embroidery. She also owns some ejido land which she hopes to rent out, once she has water for it. Most everyone in the family takes some time helping at the store: her son and his girlfriend, a twelve-year old grandson, etc. Especially over the Easter weekend, there was someone coming in every thirty seconds to buy chips, pop, or a couple of cigarettes. A small color TV with a grainy picture is on a shelf

Herminia was at Diana’s house, but I think lives with one of her daughters. She’s a beautiful woman of 73 or so, silver hair pulled back in a bun, wearing pink. Like many Yaqui women of her generation, she had children with numerous men. Just as several of her children were raised by others, she raised the children of others. As Jane says, it was a time of very fragile relationships, and this is a functional adaptation. This rather reminds me of the disruptions caused by residential schools in Canada. Among the Yaqui they were caused by deportation, ethnic cleansing, war, rebellions, and the need to migrate for work. This makes it most remarkable that the family of Juana and Cresencio has stuck together; they raised all their own children plus some.

I asked Diana what people work at in the region. They mostly work for corporate farms, the maquiladoras, or mines. Or nothing. Very few people farm their own land; it’s all leased out to large concerns, since the 1980s. The Banco Ejidal closed at that point. It used to provide loans in the form of fertilizer and seed, but Yaqui farmers sold much of what they were given, then didn’t feed the soil enough and didn’t plant enough, so didn’t get enough of a crop to repay the loans, and defaulted. That left them without land and without work. (Alternatively, perhaps commodity prices were so low they couldn’t afford to farm, especially once they couldn’t get credit. The large landowners get the water, the credit, over-fertilize and contaminate with pesticides and plaguicides, and get to exploit cheap labor to boot.)

Lacking employment, drugs are making their way in. Lots of young kids are smoking marijuana, and crystal meth is producing painfully skinny addicts. Smoking marijuana alone isn’t so bad; many who use it still work hard to be able to buy it. The meth addicts can’t work; they just steal. There are a couple of dealers poised to go to battle for control of the pueblos; there’s likely to be violence. Already, four young Yaquis went to work for the narcos and were murdered.

Jane and I went to the small village of Torim to visit Pancha Valencia, who lives on the corner just coming into town. She’s the daughter of a brother of Rosario. All household members spoke to each other in Yaqui, and to us in Spanish. Like most older and more traditional women, Pancha and her sister wore a full or pleated skirt in blue or purple, and a matching blouse. Pancha’s daughter was there with her dimpled husband (a gardener in Guaymas) and their eighteen-month old son.

Pancha’s sister accompanied us to church to see if Lázaro Valencia (who turned out to be Lázaro Piña) could come out to talk to us. He has a cargo at the church; would gobernador allow it? Mass was just starting, so we left. We returned in the evening, when the young couple went with us. They climbed the hillside to the church and returned with Lázaro. He is a half-brother of Angel and Mariana Valencia, sharing their mother. This explains why he hadn’t come up before: he wasn’t Rosario’s child. Lázaro seems to have a relatively stable home with one of his daughters.

Current Yaqui issues

The guys admit to spending a lot of time on facebook when they’re outside the village, with internet. They use cell phones to look up google maps as well. They all have email accounts from school; I’ve sent them links to my photo online albums.

All these young people, boys and girls, chime in and speak up, each has his/her say, is quite political and analytical, and fiercely proud of being Yaqui. They say some people are ashamed to be Yaquis, and try to pretend they’re Mexican, anything but Indian, trying to pass.

They asked me if the Mohawk were in Canada, and knew of Oka and the golf course. Similarly, here, they are battling for water. A year ago Yaquis blockaded the the federal highway through Vicam. The state governor sent state police to remove the blockade. This was completely wrong, as the protest was against the state governor, so should have been dealt with by the federal gov’t. The governor is violating agreements between the Yaqui and Mexico.

Many years ago, the Yaqui were involved in war with the Mexicans (never having been conquered by the Spanish). The Mexicans practiced ethnic cleansing, forcing the Yaqui into the Sierra, murdering many, locking them up in concentration camps, and deporting them. From there, e.g. Yucatán, they came back and formed barrios called “Yucateco” and “Mérida.” The government of Lázaro Cárdenas allowed them back home and set aside some land for the Yaqui (thought nowhere near as much as their traditional territory), and also decreed that they’d be able to keep at least half the water from the Yaqui River for themselves.

Guillermo Padrés Elías, the current governor of Sonora, is determined to take the Yaqui water. He has no respect for the Indians. He introduced new school textbooks that erased the Yaqui altogether, and wants to replace them with the Seri as the iconic Indians of Sonora. “No quiere a los indios.” He’s building an aqueduct to divert water from the Río Yaqui to Hermosillo, which will leave even less water for them to live on, less for their crops. They used to grow two crops a year; now there is only enough water for one. Huirivis has had to merge w/ Potam because its people don’t have enough water. Since the agreement was federal, he has no right to do this, but he’s proceeding w/ construction of the Acueducto Independencia w/out consultation with Yaquis and despite legal claims, so then he can say they can’t turn back the clock.

Much of what the boys said (above) is echoed by

Hopkins, James (January 31, 2012). Presentación al Comité sobre la Eliminación de la Discriminación Racial por las Autoridades Tradicionales de los Pueblos Río Yaqui. Retrieved April 8, 2013 from

Hopkins, James (January 31, 2012). Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the Traditional Authorities of the Rio Yaqui Pueblos.  Retrieved April 8, 2013 from

In February, 2012, James Hopkins of the University of Arizona, lawyer for the Traditional Authorities of the Pueblos of the Río Yaqui and Chief Justice of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, presented this report to the United Nations’ Committee for the Elimination of Racism. It summarizes the catastrophic losses of Yaqui land and water, violating promises made by Lázaro Cárdenas in 1937. The report includes information on subsurface water contamination, environmental deterioration and pesticide misuse. In addition, the Traditional Authorities filed a petition against Mexico before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2011.

The Yaqui Traditional Authorities have passed resolutions to prohibit the uncontrolled use of pesticides banned in the U.S. on their land, claiming contamination of water with carcinogens, etc. This was publicized during a meeting with the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) which also included Mayo, Huichol and Tohono O’odham and was supported by Mexico and the U.N. IITC representatives included Angel Valencia.

Norrell, Brenda (n.d.) Yaqui in Sonora ban pesticides resulting in death. Retrieved April 8 from

Jane thinks Robert Valencia, Chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, is sponsoring the Río Yaqui complaint about loss of their water to the international courts. I questioned by what authority he could do this, as the Yaqui here have their own government, and are in a separate state, besides. The Yaqui Traditional Authorities (those from Vicam in particular) have taken the Mexican gov’t to court and obtained an injunction from the Mexican Supreme Court, which is not being observed by the gov’t of Sonora. However, I learned that Robert Valencia was at the University of Victoria to participate in a panel moderated by James Hopkins in 2010, when Hopkins was Chair of National Aboriginal Economic Development. They also presented together at a Native American and Indigenous Studies conference in Tucson that same year. Come to think of it, Agustina spoke proudly of how her nephew, Robert Valencia, is Tribe Chair and teaches at the University of Arizona. He may even have arranged to have the Pascua Yaqui Tribe pay for Hopkins to represent the Pueblos to the U.N. He helped repatriate Yaqui skeletal remains from the American Museum of Natural History for interment in Vicam. (They’d been collected by anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka after a 1902 massacre.)

I was surprised the Yaqui youth were as positive as they are. I’d expect some negative sentiment about how things aren’t like they used to be, but they’re very much in tune with the authorities of their pueblos and how things are done. There was some giggling about how the governors selected for each pueblo aren’t always to everyone’s liking, but while they speak of the federal gov’t as corrupt, they don’t speak of their own that way. They do critique some things: there are lots of households that don’t practice the religion, that allow their kids to do anything, and where the youth have no involvement in tradition and nothing to do but get into trouble. The listen to hip-hop music and do drugs and booze.

How on earth did Juana keep all these guys on the straight and narrow? Cresencio has been gone for eleven years. Whenever the boys enter the ramada, they come around and greet with handshakes and kisses. Juana is a lovely looking older woman, maybe 10 years older than me. She was dressed in a matching pink blouse and a pink patterned skirt, with her big beautiful teeth and smile and round rimless glasses.

Other friends

I have fond memories of Phoenix almost exclusively because of our meeting with Jane’s friends, Jesús and his sister Elvira. Their father is Luis, who has become a great friend of Jane’s during her field seasons in Chihuahua. Doing archeology, it’s a good idea to get to know the neighbors, which is how Jane met Luis. He’d had back surgery years before, and was told to walk to recover. As he did, he watched the ground and he started picking up lithic tools and pottery shards. He has a phenomenal ability to remember exactly where he found each one, when, and with whom. That is combined with a really thorough knowledge of the land, the environment, the plants and the climate. Jane particularly admires him because he’s courageous, having stood up to government and landowner bullies over the years, in defense of the community. The affection is mutual; Luis and his wife Eva speak of the archeologists as “mis gringos.”

Sadly, he is now dying of lung cancer .He was brought to Arizona late last year, and doctors pronounced it inoperable. Elvira drove her parents home on December 24. She returned on the 25th with her daughter. A tire blew and the car rolled four times. Although the girl wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, they were unhurt!

Jesús met Jane when she first went to Chihuahua in 1989. He then came to the U.S. and has had different jobs, hanging drywall, as a mechanic, etc. He’s got beautiful light-colored eyes and a big smile, and he cracks a joke whenever possible. Elvira works as a nurse’s aide. She came here married and has two children born here, twins. She’s a really sweet, kind person with a soft smile, easy to get along with.

We visited with her again on our way north, having lunch at Las Cazuelas in her neighborhood. Elvira’s house is some 1700 square feet, shiny with lots of mirrors. There’s a “great room” of very large kitchen – dining – living room, four bedrooms, and at least two baths. It’s in an area of neat bungalows, but few with gardens as nice as hers (a green lawn, petunias and bedding plants, which will need water). There are lots of sidewalks. Her boyfriend is a welder. Her parents don’t approve; to them, marriage is for life. However, her ex-husband has returned to his ejido with a new partner!

We visited Bahti Indian Arts in Tucson, with pottery, kachinas, storytellers, basketry, jewelry, painting, sand paintings, and books, all very beautiful and costly. The owner, Mark Bahti, had stepped out briefly. His bibliography looks really interesting:

Archeologists make good friends! We spent several nights at the homes of Loy Neff and Nancy Pearson in Tucson, and with John Carpenter and Lupita Sánchez in Hermosillo. Jane has worked a good deal with the guys. Both opened their homes, bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens to us. Both have multiple pets – all cats in Tucson, cats, dogs and a bird in Hermosillo. This proves their generosity. I so enjoyed getting to know them and, through them, their areas and colleagues. Loy and Nancy invited over Gloria, Lupita reached Raquel Padilla and prepared delicious curried chicken!

Raquel is very knowledgeable about Yaqui communities and their history. She spoke of going to Spain to do an archival search of the story of Yaqui soldiers sent to Morocco in the early 1900s. They were recruited in Veracruz, and he Mexican government tried to prevent their departure, perhaps successfully. Padilla was also to testify on behalf of Yaqui traditional guards arrested for carrying illegal weapons. . .

Memorable Meals

In Butte, Montana, we had supper at Fiesta Mexicana. The owner is a Mexican from Jalisco, preparing to build a retirement house on land he’s bought there. Ours was a good, comfort-food supper of enchiladas, tamales, refried beans and rice, w/ a bit of lettuce and tomato. Warm tortilla chips were especially good!

I loved the salad and fried chicken buffet at Sizzles in Cedar City, where 55 year-olds qualify for the senior discount and employees are extremely polite and full of “Excuse me, Ma’am”s. Good iced tea! I may be easy to please: I liked the turnip greens and ham at Cracker Barrel, too!

We stopped at a Five Guys burger joint for iced tea and peanuts in the shell. I was again amazed at the almost exaggerated welcome and friendliness of employees. They seem genuinely interested in customers:  “How are you enjoying your day so far?” and “Would you like a tray to carry your drink? Well, let me know if you change your mind.” Earlier, as I checked out a waffle restaurant, servers called out to wish me a nice day, hoping I’d return – “Aren’t you going to eat anything?” In each case, the employees were a mix of African- and Euro-American.

The Guadalajara is a great Mexican restaurant in Tucson. A woman comes to each table wheeling a cart and prepares fresh salsa then and there! Mariachi musicians come to each table, too, and Jane almost managed to stump them with her love of obscure songs.

Jane and I drove south to from Hermosillo to Guaymas. We made three attempts to get into the town, down to the old port section w/ shellfish shacks on the beach. No luck; it seems to no longer exist. However, we did get to marisco shacks at Empalme for delicious huge shrimp (Jane) and shellfish (me) cocktails. They were so large that, after we’d eaten all we could, we put the rest into thermal mugs and had it for supper!

I found myself hungry down by the urnia-decorating ramada in Rahum, and said so – thinking I’d find a puesto nearby. Not so, only food for participants. Being fed made us participants. The meal was a delicious huge flour tortilla with garbanzo soup. After so many years of unappetizing flour wraps in weird colors, I’d forgotten how good these fluffy wheat flour tortillas can be.

We arrived at Juana’s on Easter Saturday to find Juana patting out tortillas while Guadalupe and Teresa were cooking them on the metal comal, turned round side up over the fire. Before going to bed last night, they’d left the food ready to cook: stewed beef with large pieces of potato, refried pinto beans with lots of lard, onion, garlic, chicharrón, and salsa.  Neither Jane nor I intended to eat, as we’d eaten before leaving town, but we both succumbed. It was so good! Jane patted out her own tortilla!


Yaqui – various

Yaqui people. (2013, March 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:13, March 17, 2013, from

Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from

te Wechel, Edith (2004). Yaqui: a short history. In Las Retrieved March 17, 2013 from

Holden, W. C. (1936) Studies of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico. Retrieved March 23, 2013 from

Vachiam eecha. Planting the seeds. (Digital ethnography w/ Yaqui pueblos.)

Hiakim: the Yaqui homeland (Spring 1992). Journal of the Southwest Vol. 34, No. 1. Retrieved April 10, 2013 from

Florez de Amarillas, Maria (2005). Waehmatuko Teva (Lenten Fast). In The oficial website of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from

Yaqui water rights

Meloncoyote (October 23, 2013) Yaqui Resistance: Against the Aqueduct, Agricultural Chemicals and Transgenics Crops on their Ancestral Lands. Americas program. Retrieved March 29, 2013 from

Piden Yaquis a la Suprema Corte reconocer sus derechos en próximo fallo sobre caso Acueducto Independencia. (Febrero 18, 2013). Coalición de Organizaciones Mexicanas por el Derecho al Agua. Retrieved March 29, 2013 from

Padilla Ramos, Raquel (n.d.). Jornaleros agrícolas en las haciendas henequeneras de Yucatán: y el mundo vino a ellos. . .  Retrieved April 9, 2013 from…srl

Padilla Ramos, Raquel (2006). Progreso y libertad: los yaquis en la víspera de la repatriación. Programa Editorial de Sonora.

Padilla Ramos, Raquel (2011). Los irredentos parias: los yaquis, Madero y Pino Suárez en las elecciones de Yucatán, 1911. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Yaqui Easter

Duree, Richard (n.d.) Yaqui Easter. Rectrieved March 23, 2013 from

The history of the Yaqui Easter ceremony. Retrieved March 23, 2013 from

How to speak Semana Santa: Antigua, Guatemala. Retrieved March 23, 2013 from

Shorter, David Delgado (2009). We will dance our truth: Yaqui history in Yoeme performances. University of Nebraska. [GPRC e-book; on bookshelf.]

Yaqui and Mayo Easter ceremonies. In Rimjournal: Arizona y Sonora. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from

Painter, Muriel Thayer (1971). A Yaqui Easter. University of Arizona Press. Accessed March 23, 2013 at Luis David Valenzuela


Sinagua. (2013, February 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:50, April 4, 2013, from

Central America


(Sorry; ToC and Endnotes don’t link quite as they do in Word!)



Belize City, Belmopan

Dangriga and Hopkins, the cayes.



Copán Ruinas




Bilwi / Puerto Cabezas



San José


Puerto Viejo de Talamanca



Panama City


Belizean troubles

Nicaraguan celebration

The Canal of Panama




















Flores, Guatemala

Copán Ruinas, Honduras

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Bilwi / Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua

Granada, Nicaragua

San Josè, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

David, Panama

Panama City, Panama





TRAVEL TIPS and bits and pieces




Belize City, Belmopan

On the drive from airport to city, housing looks very poor w/ little new paint. Gwen, the American nurse, pointed out this could be due to salt damage. It’s hard to tell whether buildings are inhabited, but I could see a woman with three kids inside one wooden shack. Most people ride bicycles or walk.

Vegetation is lush. Much of the road from the airport comes along the Old English River, so called because the English used it to float lumber down from western Belize and Guatemala. Buildings (such as the Belcove Hotel) have verandas and landings along the canal that runs through town. Motor boats and fishing boats carry people up and down.

In the downtown area are a few colonial (pre 1981) wooden buildings with wide verandas. Government House is a big mansion, lovely lawn and garden. Chairs, an arbour and altar were set up for wedding. It was likely a wet one, as rain poured that afternoon! Banks are in new buildings. Further south on Regent Street are large, substantial houses of concrete blocks behind fences, with big cars in the driveways.

St. John’s Anglican Church is a brick building about 200 years old. There were big SUVs surrounding it, and a funeral was taking place: a lot of people dressed in black, women in high heels, singing “Abide with me”. It’s a lovely old church, first built in 1812 and rebuilt since due to hurricanes. Plaques commemorate young people who died in the 1830s due to such causes as yellow fever and drowning.

There are scads of hardware stores in town. Lots of clothing stores, too, all of which sell what look like second-hand clothes. It looks like someone/s raided Value Village and brought it all here.

The first hour or so traveling west toward Guatemala is through low, waterlogged  terrain. It’s completely flat. Then it’s up into hilly country, trees, with lovely views. Livestock are at this altitude, goats and cattle and chickens. On the Guatemalan side, dwellings and outdoor kitchens are made of cement blocks or vertical planks. Some older ones have carrizo (cane) walls – also vertical – on a stone foundation. All thatched roofs look old. That’s just their nature. On the Belizean side there are many more wooden buildings – though still some concrete block. The further east, the more likely they are to be on stilts.

Cemeteries near Belize City are white, with a marble open book being a very common decoration. (People of the book?) Moving east, cemeteries are increasingly colorful, with lots of bright pastel, blue, and purple.

Dangriga and Hopkins, the cayes.

The trip south by bus from Belize was spectacular. (It was a chicken-bus, a North American school bus, without air conditioning but with plenty of space.) The area around the capital city of Belmopan is quite pretty, with plenty of greenery and big trees. Then, up into the hills is jungle, lots of bananas and huge trees. There are more Maya up there, apparent in housing styles (lots of color, but also thatching and plaster) and in the physical appearance of the people (straight hair). What most surprised me was hectare after hectare of oranges. Lots were loaded in huge bins on trucks, going to the processing plants of CPBL – Citrus Products of Belize Limited. The plants make concentrated citric juice and by products.

Hopkins is a village about an hour’s bus ride south of Dangriga, a little bit of paradise on the seashore, extending a few blocks inland. I loved the temperature, the sound of waves on the sandy beach, the cool wind blowing in through the screen and palm trees, and being able to have shutters open all night. Sandy beaches are created and maintained by frequent raking to remove sea grass that comes in on the tide, and to prevent new plants from taking hold. There are some larger hotels (for destination weddings!), but lodgings tend to be small-scale, with a few simple rooms. There are souvenir shops (shell jewelry, wood carvings, Maya crafts), several restaurants and bars, and Chinese grocery stores.



Guatemala immediately looked more prosperous. The new coat of paint is not limited to Flores; a lot of rural houses are newly painted, too. Most also have an outbuilding with thatched roof – probably kitchens. This used to be the practice in Belize, but no longer.

Flores is colonial-type tourist village on an island on Lake Petén, just across the causeway from the more businesslike Santa Elena. The island is in the shape of a cone, with streets winding up it in a spiral. On top are the Parque Central and the church. The buildings are all different colors. Like a spider’s web, narrow alleys and walkways run up the hill from the shoreline to the plaza, while two or three streets run parallel to the shore. They are lined with buildings sharing common walls. There are tour companies, souvenir shops, convenience stores, restaurants, and plenty of inns like Casa Azul. I’m on the third (the top) floor, with a door opening onto a big veranda looking across at San Miguel, a village on the other side of the lake. It’s a great place to sit, with a breeze and plenty of birds going by.

Flores isn’t all tourists. Today began the fiesta for El Cristo Negro de Esquipulas, patron saint of the village.[1] The church is hung from front to back with white bunting, edged in gold, going across from side to side. There is a lot of activity in the church: people visiting the image, attending mass and singing, mariachis and marimbas and fireworks outside. Processions (vueltas) continue for nine days, with mariachis and marimbas, gigantonas (Oaxaca’s monos de calenda), street dancing and fireworks are sponsored by families and businesses, their representatives wearing appropriately tee-shirts emblazoned for the occasion.

I took one of many motorized flat-bottomed boats over to San Miguel. It’s a tiny little town on the edge of the lake and going up the hill. There is a paved road along the shore and two roads going up the hill – why, I don’t know, as the only way in or out of the place is on the boat. That has to be how they take over all supplies, as well. It’s very quiet, after the vehicular hustle and bustle in Flores (especially right above the ring road). There are birds – e.g. warblers – and pigs, roosters and cats. Lots of clothes on lines and lots of greenery: gardens, trees, plants. I saw a big, green-and-blue iguana. Houses in San Miguel are colorfully painted cement block, as here, but there was also one of the old-style houses the tailor spoke of: a foundation of rocks held together by a lime mixture, with cane walls.


Copán Ruinas

The municipality has a population of some 30,000, and the town about 6,000. Some six streets and six avenues form the grid at the core of the town. It’s great fun to walk up and down checking out restaurants, stores and hotels. And it is literally “up and down,” as there are some steep hills in this small area! (The drawback to two-dimensional maps: they don’t show hills!)[3]

This town is really quite pretty and quiet. Not all the houses and buildings are nice, but many are. Streets are narrow, many cobble-stoned. I’m impressed by the amount of construction much painting, renovating, refinishing. I feel good for tradesmen.

Convenience stores do not sell beer. A store owner said it’s because people get drunk and hang out in the vicinity, and it’s true that I’ve seen more public drunkenness here than anywhere so far: staggering in the plaza, sleeping in the street, barely sitting up in a doorway. Weird.

It’s rough walking in the cemetery at Copán Ruinas, but this is probably the most colorful one I’ve seen. Flowers and wreaths are all plastic and neon; many tombs are draped in pastel plastic webbing and are themselves painted in many different colors. There are few figures or images of any kind. Most graves were post-2000. What happened before? I found only one name that seemed non-Hispanic (David Cotton), and none unconventional – keeping in mind the many color variations!

I went to investigate why a pack of people always hangs around a particular building, and discovered it’s the market! On the main floor are produce sellers with chayote, tomato, onion (red onions look so pretty on kidney beans!), garlic, mango, avocado, cabbage, carrot, peppers. (A common relish is these vegetables, pickled.) There are also some comedores (diners) that look great! On the fourth side are butchers. Down the center are clothes and such. People encouraged me to go upstairs, where there are rows of cowboy boots and stacks of cowboy hats! That’s what men wear, at least older men and those who do farm work.



This city flows over the hills. Rubén took me to the Picacho, a peak overlooking the city, under the large Christ figure. It’s a beautiful park with big pine trees, a mock pyramid (imitating Copán), and gardens. From there, one can see the city goes on an awfully long way, and one can walk around the peak and see in all directions, all the different barrios. There are a number of poor neighborhoods that are the result of “invasiones”, takeovers of unused land. The flank of one hill is bare, because it collapsed during one particularly rainy period (perhaps due to an underlying spring), swallowing a neighborhood and countless people.

We saw some great birds up there: woodpeckers and a beautiful blue bird. There was no one around other than some workmen and a group of youthful Asian youth tourists.



León prides itself on its university and intellectual traditions. There is also a great deal of colonial (or at least old!) architecture and cobble-stoned streets. It is clean and colorful. People are relaxed, comfortable, carefree – an immediate contrast with Tegucigalpa. Even after dark, windows and doors were wide open, usually revealing a decorated Christmas tree in the front room and, beyond that, the dining room. Rockers, tables, and chairs are of wood and wicker.

I arrived to attend poetry readings and musical performances outside the Iglesia San Francisco, part of the annual conference for the great poet Rubén Darío. Both poems and songs choked me up. There was also mention of the death of Silvio Linarte, which became a theme of my time in León. (Linarte died of diabetes complications.)

The church has an image of a muscular and handsome African man, San Benito. He was the son of slaves, a monastery cook in Palermo, Italy. León’s Cathedral[5] is the largest in Central America, and is a beloved historical monument in Nicaragua. Much of it and the Plaza Central were undergoing reconstruction, concealed by metal fencing, so not very impressive at the time I was there. In addition, the outside of the Cathedral was rather deteriorated – not at all like the interior, which was beautiful. Inside these churches are the elaborately carved platforms on which images are carried during religious processions.

One of the most popular dishes at the León market was “caldo de gallina” – a gigantic bowl of chicken soup with huge portions of boiled chicken. I just stood and watched for a while. Another dish was “variado,” prepared in outdoor cookers, a mixture of several meats, yucca and banana in foil. Plastic bags are used for take-away beverages. Dump ice into a plastic bag, add pop, stick in a straw, and tie the plastic bag around it.

Bilwi / Puerto Cabezas

“Puerto Cabezas” is the older name for Bilwi, but it’s the name still used by some Nicaraguans outside of RAAN (the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte) and, even, by the airlines.

Many of the streets are paved, at least w/ paving blocks. A raised sidewalk on one side often separates the road from a drainage ditch. Being raised, the sidewalk is out of the water. Planks or concrete bridges cross the ditch to enter yards. Houses are on pylons to keep them out of the water and away from mosquitoes. The water level is really high; water runs in most ditches, often with minnows. Houses are wood and concrete, some painted, some not. I’m told some of the fancier houses are financed by drug money, as are many of the taxis – great for money laundering. Ismeña (see Persons) pointed out how much garbage and pollution there is in streams and ditches. (Oh, to have an NGO make a priority of garbage clean-up and plastic recycling!)

Fishermen bring their catch to sell at Playa La Bocana. It’s the town’s swimming beach, where parking spots have been paved, there is some sidewalk, and a wooden walkway goes down to the beach.

The market covers the core of two city blocks, on either side of the alley. It’s got a small variety of produce (onions, garlic, avocado, tomato, cassava, oranges, plantains and bananas), a good amount of fish, shrimp, crab, meat and organ meats, but no chicken that I remember. There are almost no finished goods other than some honey and a kind of cake. And there are tons of North American clothing.

I had some delicious pan de coco (coconut bread) fresh out of the oven, baked at the Catholic Church over in Barrio El Muelle. The oven was fascinating (as Ismeña thoughtfully pointed out): a metal hemisphere (a large, shallow bowl) on the ground with a cover of corrugated metal, firewood burning on top, flattened circles of dough placed in the metal bowl. It bakes into a warm, soft bread.

At the market, shops sell cooking utensils and lots of miscellaneous stuff. For instance, there was the store owned by Magdalena Chow.  Graters are made by hand: half-cylinders fastened to a plank, a nail hammered through the metal from the inside to leave jagged metal on the outside, for coconut or yucca. I’ve seen women doing laundry on handmade wooden washboards.


Granada is proud of its many turn-of-the-20th-century buildings, particularly because almost all are reconstructions of those torched in 1856 by the troops of William Walker. He’d set himself up as “president” of Nicaragua, determined to establish a slave state in Central America, and was forced out by Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran armed forces.[6] The streets of the city’s center are narrow and cobbled, and the Plaza is lovely and treed and full of people all day.

The Cathedral of Granada is bright yellow on the outside, and lemon-yellow and grey on the inside. Like the other churches in town, it has no gilt, few images, very Protestant looking. They have pastel interiors, wooden benches and kneelers. Maybe this is an indicator of national poverty. La Merced church has a tower with great views.

The tile factory that has made tiles for churches and homes for well over 100 years still exists. Lovely stuff. There was no one to ask how they’re made, but it looks like the color goes right through.

The Parque Sandino is in front of old train station. Under President Violeta Chamorro, economic problems were severe enough the track was torn up to sell as scrap metal. The repainted station is now a technical school to train city workers, as well as a culinary school. Student welders made sculptures for the park.

The Iglesia de Xalteva and the Muros de Xalteva are across from Parque Indígena de Xalteva.[7] The walls were either built by Indian communities to act as boundaries between them, or by the Spanish to surround the Indians, or to contain stream water and prevent flooding! Theft of construction stones is a problem. Calle Real Xalteva proceeds west to La Pólvora, where gunpowder was stored, as the fort was found to be too humid. I walked up there, past the Salesians’ Colegio Don Bosco and Iglesia María Auxiliadora, the most recently painted church buildings in town. A guard left his cell phone conversation barely long enough to tell me La Pólvora is closed for repairs; no idea when it will reopen. Reinforcing the appearance that tourism isn’t reliable, the reportedly dangerous “Zona Turística” of beaches and open-air restaurants was deserted.


San José

This city is totally unlike anywhere I’d been for the previous four weeks. It’s modern, w/ big neon signs, fancy stores and malls, high rises, wide streets, traffic flow and traffic jams. Upon arrival, I chased ATMs all over until I found the Scotiabank. By then, I was turned around enough that I didn’t know my way home. This city is on a grid system: on one side of Central Avenue are all the even-numbered Avenues. On the other side, they’re odd. Same goes for Streets: Center Street separates the odds from the evens. Simple – but I could never find enough signs to triangulate my way back. I’ve heard it said that josefinos (the people of San Jose) navigate by landmarks and never know what street they’re on. Also, they are very reluctant to say “No” or that they can’t help. Both are true. I asked for the Jade Museum (a block away from my hotel) and was first directed to the Gold Museum, and then accompanied to the National Museum. (Perhaps the tourist and resident worlds really are segregated!) When I was finally within about 4 blocks of the hotel and completely on-track, a round-about or something similar blocked my way. At that point, I hopped in a cab.

When a driver took an “unusual” route, he did not follow my grid of Calles and Avenidas leading through the traffic jam (tranque) at the center of town; he bypassed it. Locals aren’t imprisoned by the grid, but guide themselves by sensible routes and landmarks!

I went into the Teatro Nacional and was snapping some photos, when I suddenly recognized the very elegant, old-fashioned coffee shop. I’d been there with Pamela almost twenty years ago! It was the same when I got to the Museo del Oro; I recognized the metal railing around part of the plaza. Before, it wasn’t terribly safe. Now there are tourist police stationed on a lookout tower, always overhead, always watching. These are on Avenida Central, which is quite walkable in the morning – and jam-packed in the later afternoon, as everyone comes to shop, hang out, and pass through on their way home. There are a number of places where older men roost on low concrete wall-benches, people-watching and visiting. I found another park where youth hang out, some practicing circus tricks. It’s where the queer kids go, too. I don’t think I’ll ever work up the nerve to take their photos.

I passed by florists in the Mercado Central this afternoon, took a picture, and asked the florist when people buy flowers. Weddings, events, religious celebrations – but not much for the cemetery. The government has prohibited cut flowers in cemeteries in the effort to eradicate dengue. It’s had drastic effects on the industry. No wonder I thought cemeteries looked colorless!


It’s a 7-hour bus ride from San José to Monteverde. The first four was 4-lane, then a good 2-lane highway. It was hot at sea level, on the plains. The last three hours were up a winding mountain road, and least half of the time on really rocky dirt road. It’s amazing buses come here! At Santa Elena the road is suddenly paved, probably to facilitate the tourism. Anyway, it was quite amazing. Winding, winding, coming up from the shore, seeing the Nicoya peninsula in the distance. Pine trees, banana plantations, coffee, sugar. It’s not that lush; it’s pretty dry.

The village is highly developed for tourism: plenty of good hostels, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and two big grocery stores. It is like a miniature Banff, without snow! Those who live and work in the Monteverde area are very conscious of the fact that they need to protect the environment and to treat tourists well. It’s their bread and butter. A lot of American ex-pats live here, perhaps because the Monteverde Rainforest Reserve was the initiative of U.S. Quakers.[8]

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

From San José, it is a 4 ½ hour ride by bus (full of foreigners) to the Atlantic, rapidly descending from highlands, through heavy forested hills, down to ocean-level plains and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. There are lots of bananas in blue bags and lots of shipping containers for the port of Limón on the way. Puerto Viejo looks like a holiday town for university students and hippies, people who spend all day on the beach. I see no fancy hotels, just dodgy lodgings, open-air restaurants, and bars. Middle-aged people – men – get here by mistake, looking for girls. It’s a bit like Hopkins.

(On the Pacific coast, by Manuel Antonio, I remember the descent from the highlands as dramatic, windy, through banana plantations. The new highway is a multi-lane toll road, through hectares of African oil palms. These replaced the bananas hit by blight and, I’m told, labor demands.[9] They say the oil processing plant spews black smoke and stinks.)



Many of the residences in semi-rural and suburban Panama are ranch-style houses with ample yards and gardens, made of concrete block, with glass windows. They have a deep veranda along the front, often extending into a carport around one side of the house.

Making local runs are yellow school buses. Mine was from West Virginia, and looked brand new. It took me to Boquete, a beautiful high-altitude town, as one would expect of an American retirement paradise. The region is alpine – luxury hotels in the hills with gardens, coffee bushes, pathways, birds, plants and flowers. Trails lead to swinging bridges. I get confused about latitude once I reach a certain altitude. There are market gardens in the hills growing potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and cabbage. The town has stores – hardware, groceries, souvenirs, crafts – run by Panamanians. Many shoppers are gringos. There was an art auction at the community center by and for gringos to benefit Boquete. I bought a small tile (azulejo) of a mola-type design. The designer and shop owner is Deborah, from New Mexico. No wonder the tiles seemed familiar! Panamanian women paint them using a stencil.

Panama City

The largest tourist center for the Panama Canal is at the Miraflores locks (esclusas). A wide, long set of stairs leads to the building, about 4 storeys up. Entering the lobby, a theater is to the right (where the canal video is shown in Spanish and in English), stairs (or an elevator) lead up four floors to the observation deck, or left to the museum. That takes up a portion of three floors; some historical, some natural history. Many of the museum’s lights were out. The top floor observatory was lined with visitors, few Panamanians, watching ships move through the locks. The vessels are pulled into each lock by locomotives on tracks along the side (reminiscent of boats hauled through English canals). Most ships carry containers, and some are cruise ships.

The Mirador Ancón is on a high hill overlooking the Casco Viejo and the high rise buildings of Panama City as well as the Canal. The largest Panamanian flag in the country now flies here, replacing the U.S. flag that was there at least until 1977.

The Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo is a large park with walking paths and rescue animal in cages. I wasn’t crazy about that, but an enthusiastic zoo attendant lectured the visiting public about why the zoo must care raise baby pumas and why not to have wild animals as pets. Plants, trees, and bamboo are labelled. The place was full of families carrying picnic baskets. Several set up baseball games, chasing balls all over. I found it interesting that there were lots of Chinese going in, and then realized saw there was a Chinese New Year’s picnic. A group of East Indian women sat under trees, surrounded by food baskets. Their men and children must have been somewhere! The park is large enough that it was not crowded, though it was hard to find parking.

Albrook Mall is across the street from the Albrook bus terminal. The Terminal is the transportation hub for the whole country. The Mall took me a good two hours to walk through on the ground floor. The mall is very comfortable and familiar for a North American, as well as very uncrowded. (Mind you, I think it was the first day of school.) There are multiple food courts, large department stores, everything imaginable. New clothes are a lot more common in Panama than elsewhere![10]

The Peatonal on Avenida Central is a hive of activity. There are lots of barber shops opening right off the street, and they’re always full. It’s a bit like the men’s equivalent of hair straightening for Afro-Panamanian women, perhaps for the same reasons. They keep their hair really tidy! For women, nail salons are on the sidewalk, for hands and feet. There are great benches for people-watching, too! I felt like the whitest person around.


Belizean troubles

The people are very kind and courteous, almost all offering greetings, and offering unsolicited help. I think I know what I’m sensing about Belize that tends to make me feel for the people and the place: there is an absence of pride, a presence of shame. The media frequently consider what effect events (e.g. the murder of gang members) will have on tourism, on how the country is seen by the world. There is shame over the economic situation, especially being unable to meet loan payments. There is shame over corruption of police officers, government functionaries and elected officials. Craftsmen, vendors, police and people in the street were anxious that I keep myself safe, find my way, and enjoy Belize, and they were apologetic about any discomfort and danger.

Walking on the beach, a Belizean adolescent stepped up beside me and made me a little nervous. He was on the beach side of me, and touched me occasionally, so I felt I was being pushed towards the water. I told him so. When I was talking to a North American he moved away, and then came back. I don’t think he meant any harm – but perhaps what unnerved me was his question about what I’m doing here. Am I on a mission or something?

When people are not very conversant, it’s easy to understand their unspoken question: What do you care? I come from a different world, where we are curious about others as a matter of course, we are interested. I’m thinking of Hopkins, the Mestizo guy with the rubber boots, the Black fishermen, the Maya building the thatched roof, those building a new hotel complex.  I need to find ways to tell about myself so they can see why I’d want to know about them – or I need to just sit back and just watch.

Nicaraguan celebration

Nicaraguans are proud of their revolution, especially those who are “old farts” (old enough to have participated in it) and mestizo (Hispanic). For them, it is still alive. They are particularly proud of subsidized health care and education. They are much less likely to support the Partido Sandinista or the current government, feeling that they are either worn out or sold out. They say Ortega’s wife was only ever in it for the money, runs the show from behind the scenes, and has all her kids in international private schools. That’s not socialism; they just want others to be socialist.

Gioconda Belli, Nicaraguan media analyst, essayist and novelist, describes what she calls the beautiful but failed revolution. It failed because, after the single-minded dedication to overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship, Nicaraguans didn’t have time to develop tolerance and respect for freedom of thought. The U.S.-sponsored war and invasion forced authoritarianism for self-defense; Daniel Ortega, in particular, continues to believe that those who don’t share his ideas are traitors.[11] I’ve heard this called “Orteguismo,” and his followers “Orteguistas,” in contrast to Sandinismo and Sandinistas. The current slogan of the Partido Sandinista is “Sandinistas cristianos, socialistas, solidarios.”

The celebration of the life of Silvio Antonio Linarte Argüelles is indicative of the pride. He was one of the revolutionary musicians who worked with Carlos Mejía Godoy, and was a lifetime member of Los de Palacagüina. When his passing was announced at the Rubén Darío event, a minute’s standing ovation was held for him.

The following day, there was an event held in his honor at the Teatro Municipal José de la Cruz Mena. It was a great place for me to spend the hot afternoon, and so touching to see how Nicaraguans honor their heroes! The emcee was a radio broadcaster with a big voice, and the event was broadcast across the country. Several people gave speeches, most talking of the revolution and the years of struggle. They spoke of how he often played for no money at all, how much the revolution meant to him, and of his beautiful voice. Others (several professionals) played songs.

On stage was his casket surrounded by easels holding floral wreaths that were added to during the afternoon. After an hour of speeches, an honor guard began. Six people stood, three on each side of the casket. About every two minutes they were replaced by another set of six. It was like a wake, a velorio.          In the midst of it all, it was announced that there would be a mass “con cuerpo presente” (a funeral with casket) the next morning at La Merced Church. Carlos Mejía Godoy will be there directing the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense, which was recorded by Silvio and Los de Palacagüina.

This is a piece of music I’ve always loved (along with the Argentine Misa Criolla of Ariel Ramírez and the Misa Flamenca of Paco Peña), so a very meaningful event for me. I arrived at the church when Carlos Mejía Godoy and Los de Palacagüina were setting up, tuning their instruments and their voices. The church filled with people of all ages, sizes and types of dress. There were lots of blue jeans. The coffin was brought in by pall-bearers, followed by mourners. It’s not right to see an elderly mother burying her son. He had a son and daughter there, too. The mass followed its usual ritual, the music punctuated by words from the priest. Most people were familiar with and participated in the Catholic liturgy, but a lot did not, though all were respectful. Few took communion. The priest was just fine, a little too insistent that “sabemos con absoluta certeza” (“we know with absolute certainty) that Silvio is with the lord, that we’ll meet again, that life continues after death, etc.

The music was wonderful. I was so happy to see it performed live, by these older men with big beautiful voices and instruments. I didn’t realize Carlos plays accordion. His son played marimba. There were two guitars (rhythm and first), a base, a flute and a wonderful violin. I loved looking around the congregation at the number of people singing along, in full voice. There were many journalists and photographers, mostly amateur. (It’s annoying that a camera seems to give people permission to move in front of and block the view of others!)

The Misa Campesina exemplifies the joy and hopefulness of liberation theology, of a church accompanying the poor rather than sustaining the status quo, of a church of change and justice.[12]

Que viva León jodido!

To cap it off, I had another evening of wonderful music at the Casa Carlos Mejía Godoy in Managua with my brother and family!

The Canal of Panama

I expected Panama to be the most Americanized of the Central American countries. Turns out that’s not true at all, perhaps because they’ve experienced the most contact and oppression from the U.S. Rita says English is scarcely taught in schools.

The Panama Canal is an immense source of nationalistic pride. I’d forgotten the history. The U.S. administered and totally controlled the Canal for many years as per the Hay-Brunau Varilla Treaty of 1904.[13] According to the museum video, Panamanians weren’t allowed into the Canal Zone (5 miles on each side of the Canal) at all. On January 9, 1964 (Martyrs’ Day), there were huge student protests. Twenty Panamanians and 3-5 American soldiers died. The unrest forced the U.S. to negotiate. Presidents Omar Torrijos and Jimmy Carter signed a treaty promising to hand over the Canal to Panama in 1999. The Canal Zone itself ceased to exist in 1979. Michael (my taxista-guide) says most Americans left at that time.

$250,000.00 annually was paid to Panama during the U.S. administration. In 2007, a referendum was held in Panama. 78% voted in favor of expanding the Canal, so larger ships can be accommodated. The possibility of economic growth encourages many people.

(Interesting; I was curious about the water from Gatún Lake, which raises the water in the locks. Is it ever recovered or reused, or does it just go out to the ocean? Michael said the latter. It turns out the new locks will be reusing water.)



Julio (the tour guide to Tikal) attended winter solstice ceremonies at Yaxchilán. He’s very interested in Maya spirituality and cosmology, particularly the numerology and astronomy repeated throughout Tikal. He spoke of the history of construction of the many structures. It really is a very beautiful place, with pyramids and temples emerging from the jungle in gorgeous patterns, connected by adequate but unobtrusive pathways – seemingly created by use, rather than by construction. He spoke of animals and plants, too. Although some members of the group were initially uptight, he got everyone relaxed and we all enjoyed it. Better – there were enough inspirational sights when we came over a mound or climbed to the top to look down to make “Wow” the most-spoken word. As I was carrying an umbrella, the rain held off. We were on a high structure when the sun set, shining on other buildings poking up through the forest. In the Maya Classic Period, the jungle wasn’t there; it was cleared off (and used for construction and fuel, I’m sure), but it sure looks cool now.[14]


It’s a treat to take a half-hour walk from the town of Copán Ruinas to the Copán archeological site in Honduras![15] It costs US$15 to get in, and another $7 to enter the Museo de Esculturas. A path goes down to the Copán River, where I met a fellow collecting branches to make brooms to sweep the site. Like many people, he carries a machete with him much of the time. He was riding his bicycle w/ the branches over his shoulder. At the main entrance to the site, red macaws are raised and protected (guaras or guacamayas rojas). A representation of the sun, they had sacred status. Birdfeeders provide opportunity for more birds, warblers and orioles being my favorites.

The reconstruction of Copán has been rather aggressive. Cement holds rocks and steps in place, even on top of structures – which made walking feel safe. I loved poking around. At one point I smelled marijuana smoke, and eventually saw it – a fellow was hiding around a high-level corner, smoking up. There is lawn in much of the areas, and I loved the trees still growing on and through many structures.

I have trouble imagining what these places were like at various times. The Maya apparently cleared the trees while they were building and occupying the area. The earth and rock moving was enormous. The design work required figuring out what the carvings should be to fit where, to tell the story, e.g. the glyph staircase. Carvings and glyphs go across several rock faces that then go together like puzzle pieces. I think the construction system involves the use of countless boulders w/ soil fill, faced with the rock cut into bricks.

And then I wonder what the reconstruction is like for archeologists: how do they know where to start? There’s at least one area where a concrete 2-track road has been built clean over a structure. Can that be removed later? In short, I want to know about construction, deconstruction and reconstruction.

The east side of the complex was washed away by the Río Copán, which has been channeled and moved back. Fortuitously, that provided a way to see inside the layers to previous stages of construction. The symbol of the petate – like basket weaving – is also symbolic of authority, the top gun being at the top of the petate (the mat). The petate motif reminded me of the grecas at Mitla.

It’s all delightful because there weren’t too many people. Many of the glyphs and carvings can be touched. Very cool.[16]


A flat-bottomed motorboat took me to the Isla Museo at Flores, Guatemala. I looked around the museum myself: glass showcases of stone tools and Maya pottery. Eventually a man of about 45 came out – a blond with fair skin and light eyes. His father started the museum 40 years ago with things he found on the island, and when people heard, they brought him their artifacts. There are also some old ham radios and such; he was an electrician. Father died not long ago, so mother asked son to return so she wouldn’t be alone. He runs a radio station out of his house.


The Government House/House of Culture in Belize City is a big, wooden mansion, now with offices and a museum and rooms rented out for meetings. The adjoining Belizean Kriol Council office is unmanned. I like the architecture and the proportions. When front and back doors are open, a lovely breeze rushes through. The receptionist pointed out that what is now the front door used to be the back; the original front door faced the sea. I also enjoyed the history, especially about the many destructive hurricanes[17] and unusual characters such as Colonel Edward Despard.[18] The first Governor General of the independent Belize (1981-1993) was Dr. The Hon. Dame Elmira Minita Gordon, a Kriol woman. She attended the University of Calgary!


The town of Copán Ruinas has the Museo Arqueológico del Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia. There is a nice exhibit of interconnecting gears, one large and one small, representing the long count and short count Maya calendars. In his sculpture, the escribano (writer, ledger-keeper?) sits with his legs crossed impossibly close to his body. There is some black on tan pottery and some red; one huge obsidian ceremonial knife, items like that. The guard was one of the cowboy-hat-and-boots types, though young and obviously not farming!

Then I went to the other side of the plaza to the Colegio Viejo, the old school. A large room there is used to show photographs of Copán (both the town and the ruins) and site in the twentieth century. There are images of people, places, events, aerial photos, first car, first airplanes and archeologists. The young fellow there was extremely happy to have me to talk to. (He’s César, under Persons.)


Rubén was my escort to Tegucigalpa’s sights. The Museo Historia Republicana Villa Roy is in a temporary location, at the old Presidential Palace in downtown Tegucigalpa. Its permanent home cracked down the middle, so it had to move. Much of the collection is in storage. We were shown around by a really outgoing, friendly guy – could be the manager, could be a docent. I neglected to ask. He showed us into the “Blue Room” (which isn’t), with old furniture, flags, and new laminate floors. This is where the president held social gatherings. Beautiful chandeliers – most made w/ natural crystals. Also the flags of the five Central American sisters: Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. A beautiful granite staircase leads to the second floor, a tower lookout, what used to be the brig for palace guards, the Presidents’ office. The board of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia meets there now, around a gigantic table w/ leather chairs donated by a bank. Parquet floors here. There’s still another lookout tower, this one a spiral w/ no bannisters. I refused to go up, but appreciated it; the guide recalled a Canadian girl who climbed up and had a heck of a time getting down.

On the grounds of the palace, down by the river, there once were deer. This was one of so many things destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, everything from bridges to neighborhoods. The hurricane circled around and stalled, bringing huge amounts of water and sediment down the river, so much it blocked off and backed up and flooded Comayagüela.

We went to the Museo de las Telecomunicaciones, with telephones through time (including lots of old cell phones, many of which Rubén had owned), ham radios, morse keys. The best museum of all was the Museo para la Identidad Nacional. It really did cover Honduras through time, lots of historical and prehistoric stuff, lots of indigenous material. There was much to be read, however, and not enough time to read it. I need to try to find the material online: the mining, the banana wars, the indigenous peoples, the reducciones.



In León, Nicaragua, is the Museo y Archivo Rubén Darío (1867-1916). He was born in León and largely grew up here, raised by his mother’s aunt Bernarda and her husband. (His mother remarried and left, as did father.) He had two half-sisters (“bastardas”) on his father’s side. His foster father was a coronel. He had access to at least some money, as he went to live in places like Managua and El Salvador in his mid-teens. Eventually he travelled further afield, grew a reputation as both a poet and a diplomat, and became a Colombian ambassador at one point and a Nicaraguan ambassador after that in countries like Chile, Argentina, France and Spain. He was married several times, widowed, divorced. . . I was struck by how familiar I was with his poems from the course in Latin American literature I took 40 years ago. Many are of social, political and personal value. Take, for instance, his poem to Roosevelt.[19]

Then I was at the Fundación Ortiz, two buildings of paintings from many sources. There are some sculptures, too, mostly by Ernesto Cardenal! My favorite piece was also not a painting, but a sculpture: Globananalización, by Raúl Quintanilla.[20] It’s a globe of the world covered with pre-Columbian pottery shards, rolling down a green field to crush a goaltender. (Leading the way is a pot handle – the head of the round beast. Who is the goaltender, anyway?)


Granada, Nicaragua’s Museo de Cerámica Pre-colombina, or Mi Museo has a great collection.[21] In Oaxaca, Sara Gorman bought a ceramic pot shaped rather like a baby bootie. The woman selling it said was for cooking beans. Here, the pots are identified as ossuary urns or “shoe-shaped funerary urns,” used for secondary burial. Their shape is interpreted as that of pregnant bellies. Some have a belly button; others have a face where that would be, and arms (sometimes said to be Fallopian tubes) on the side. Other marks are interpreted as Caesarian section incisions, or the darkened line on a pregnant woman’s belly that goes from her navel to the pubic line.

The museum is located where once stood a colonial house, about 4 blocks from the Plaza. Like most of the town’s buildings, it was burned down by William Walker in 1865, and re-built a couple of decades later. Danish philanthropist Peder Kolind bought the building in about 2001 to establish the Museum.

Kolind found the ancient ceramics beautiful. To start the museum, he offered to purchase whatever people might bring in at a specific hour each day. Within a short time, he’d accumulated more pieces than the national museum. He was arrested, accused of planning to traffic in the pre-Columbian ceramics, imprisoned, and released. The Instituto Nacional de Cultura was ordered to return the collection to him, and it is in the Museum.[22] He wants Nicaraguans to see their past. Entry to the Museum is free; the only charge is for a collection catalogue and post cards. They don’t even take donations! A visit to the Museum is part of the curriculum for all school children. It’s open 365 days / year; photography is allowed everywhere. The Museum publishes a journal, Mi museo y vos, available for free online:

On the posters at Mi Museo was mention of University of Calgary’s Geoffrey McAfferty! He has done a good deal of archeological research in Nicaragua and particularly with Mi Casa. He’s been excavating there for 5 years or so, and has put in for another grant to continue. He brings students, too.  I’ll go see him and his collection (which they’re cataloguing) when I’m in Calgary. Mi Museo’s archeologist, Óscar Pavón Sánchez, is delighted to be working with McAfferty, as is Kolind.

Granada has a terrific art school, the Casa de los Tres Mundos, channeling development aid into the theatre, music, and visual arts as well as architectural restoration.[23] There was an exhibit and sale by the Solentiname art cooperative of brilliantly painted balsa sculptures, birds and animals, reminiscent of alebrijes. Ernesto Cardenal was part of the community and helped developed the Evangelio de Solentiname in 1960s. A very creative and productive Nicaraguan theologian, artist and poet[24] born in Granada, he is a founder of the Fundación Casa de los Tres Mundos.

The Museum at Complejo San Francisco in Granada is rather dismal and sad, dirty and dark, with spotted walls. The translations to English are painful. When I was there, it was closing at 1600 instead of 1730, perhaps because of a big baseball game. In addition to the usual ceramic pots and figures, there are exceptional huge basalt figures from Isla de Zapatera, most not interpreted. These are totally different from Nahuatl or Maya stuff I’ve seen. Smooth, they’re rather simple and coarse, or perhaps just eroded. There’s a good issue of Temas de Nicaragua (n.d.)


A very common artifact in Costa Rican museums are metates intricately carved out of basalt. These are not every day, kneel-on-the-floor-and-grind-corn metates. They’re three-footed, often used to cover a tomb, a burial. It was noted they might serve as seats or benches – and, I thought, thrones! In fact, metate-shaped benches are in the plaza outside the museum. I think it was at Tikal that petates and the petate glyph (basket-weave) were symbolic of power, of authority. Could metate have a similar meaning?[25] (McAfferty thinks these might suggest women’s authority. He also confirmed something I’d been reluctant to believe: no evidence of maize found in the older sites. [Personal communication, March 5, 2013.])

The Gold Museum in San José is as gorgeous as 18 years ago. I remember how obvious it was that this was no simple horticultural society.[26] There’s also great pottery and basalt. Photos without flash are allowed in all museums.

The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica is way up on a hillside.[27]  Until 1948, the building was a military installation, where recruits were trained, etc. It was in 1948 that President José Figueres Ferrer famously abolished the military, and the buildings became the museum, the headquarters for the anthropology department, etc. They have since moved on.

On the way into the museum there is, first, a butterfly garden. In fact, there are only about a dozen butterflies of about 3 types, but they’re very nice: the black-white-red ones, orange ones, and the bright blue. Maybe the others hid out because it was cold! I’d forgotten the indigenous peoples of this area (perhaps the disappeared Diquis, who may be the ancestors of today’s Buracos) made basalt spheres of many sizes.[28] Metalworking technology came up from the south, from Colombia and the Andes. I think the Mesoamerican influence was on ceramics.

An historical section of the museum was in the old officers’ quarters. This meant they were quite beautiful buildings. As usual, the exhibit’s tendency was toward fancy imported goods of the nineteenth century, but there was also an attempt to deal with ordinary people: the zapateros, shoe-makers, whose union was among the most radical, and Jamaicans, who were brought in for railway construction.

There was a superb exhibit of Japanese dolls at the Museo Nacional, brought in by the Japanese Foundation, which only opened the day before I was there. These are just beautiful, including ancient nobility, rulers, children, theater figures, carved, others dressed, many different types.[29]

The Museo de Arte y Decoración Contemporáneo (MADC: ) is great fun. It’s in the old Fábrica Nacional de Licores (I believe – where the gov’t took its monopoly of spirits production.)  I think it’s mostly student art. The current exhibit seeks to debunk myths about Costa Rica.[30] For example,

–       Costa Rica has been called a tropical Switzerland, which makes Ticos feel very sophisticated and white. An animated film is accompanied by a song written in the early 20th century in that spirit, but w/ new, sarcastic lyrics and plenty of Swiss yodelling.

–       More recently, in 2009, the New Economics Report declared CR the happiest country in the world: happiest from whose perspective?

–       Ticos pride themselves on tolerance and acceptance – but are horribly prejudiced against Nicaraguans, who provide a good deal of the cheap unskilled labor. Who wants to admit such horrible working conditions exist? Better to blame the workers. “We give them everything. . .”

–       Sometime in the early 20th Century, Chinese immigrant men wrote to the Secretary of the Interior requesting permission to bring over their families. Denied.

–       The three national vices?: football, alcohol, and religion.

–       Instead of a macho football player, there is “El futbolista delicado,” a flirtatious shiny boy said to bring “charm and brilliance” (shine?) to the game, by Roberto Guerrero. The latest in gear for a delicate football player?: sequinned soccer ball and shoes.[31]

–       White male American tourists in particular come for the images of tropical beauty (geology, plant, animal) and the sex trade workers. Which reminded me unpleasantly of the squishy middle-aged American I saw walking yesterday evening with a couple of Tica women. He wore a tee-shirt that said, “I’m not a gynecologist, but I’d be happy to take a look!”

–       There may not be an army, but there is a police force that can definitely be brutal.

It was a delightful, refreshing exhibit.


In Panama City, I wandered around a park by the Palacio Legislativo trying unsuccessfully to get my bearings, until I asked someone how to get to the Museo Africano-Antillano. He actually knew! Once I ask a question, if people know the answer, they are really nice and helpful. He pointed out a bluish building, said it was a hospital, and the museum was across the street. Getting there was the next challenge – not easy to find places to cross the busy streets, walk down an alley made narrow by market booths (where chácaras (bags) sold for U$8 – way more than I paid in Chiriquí). The museum is reached through a side door because the normal road between it and the hospital is being rebuilt. (Similarly, Avenida España, one of the main arteries and very near this hotel, is totally torn up while LRT goes in.)

The Museum is in the old Iglesia Misionera, opened in 1908 or so. People of African descent came from the West Indies (Antillas) in waves: to work in agriculture in the early 1800s, to work on the train line across the isthmus, and to build the Canal – first w/ the French, in the 1890s, and with the Americans in 1910s. The bulk, at least in the last period, came from Barbados. Companies encouraged families when they saw they reduced the turnover of men.

The museum included a steel drum, handiwork done by women (yoyo quilts), a treadle sewing machine, a photo of a women’s sewing group, and information about churches and West Indian pastors. Marcus Garvey visited Limón and Colón 1910-1912; certainly the Universal Negro Improvement Association collected members in Panama City. There were some good pictures: a mother and daughter sewing side-by-side, a girl struggling as the hairdresser straightens her hair. Photos of schoolchildren and their teachers illustrate the value placed on education.

The Museo del Canal de Panamá in the Casco Viejo is terrific.[32] I focused mostly on U.S. actions. They contrived an agreement with Bunau Varilla, although he had no real negotiating authority, and then interpreted that 1903 treaty to suit them best. They were able to take total possession of a 10 mile strip, 5 on each side of the center of the Canal. It was ages before the first bridge was built across it; I don’t know whether Panamanians could cross it at all. When the bridge was finally built, the U.S. wanted it named the “Thatcher Berry Bridge,” but the Panamanian legislature named it “El Puente de las Américas” and refused to allow Maurice Thatcher to even speak. The Zone and the fence around it were comparable to the Berlin Wall. The U.S. also claimed the right to establish many large military bases elsewhere in the country as a result of WWII. Panama benefited hardly at all. The country was paid $250,000/year to 1936, then $445,000, then $1.93 million after 1953. In 1972, under Omar Torrijos, Panama refused the payment.  The Canal authority would not allow the Panamanian flag into the Zone – hence Martyrs’ Day. Even upper-class Panamanians benefited very little. Everything needed in the Zone was imported from the U.S., so Americans were buying nothing locally. It wasn’t for years that the U.S. agreed to make personnel who didn’t have to live in the Zone rent housing outside, so Panamanian landlords would benefit.

There were the usual assaults, sexual and physical, of the local population. Students at Balboa High School, in the Zone, played an active part in refusing to allow the Panamanian flag to fly. There’s a long list of occasions on which the U.S. intervened militarily, the last invasion being in 1989.[33] (It is said that Jimmy Carter sacrificed his political career when he signed the treaty with Torrijos to hand over the Canal. Or was it the Iraq hostage crisis? John McCain was born in the Canal Zone. Didn’t the birthers notice?)



There are three types of Maya: Kekchi (not Quiché), Yucatecan and Mopán.

Garifuna / Garinagu / Black Carib are Indigenous-Afro-European, often w/ Spanish surnames. (Garinagu is the people, Garifuna the culture and language. Or sometimes it’s said that Garifuna is singular, and Garinagu plural. Often the terms are used interchangeably.) By some accounts they arose in Saint Vincent and, because of their alliance w/ French, were expelled to Roatán, Honduras by the English in 1763. From there they came to Belize in the nineteenth century[34].

Dangriga streets were full of children in school uniforms and their escorts. There are lots of used clothing stores, many owned by East Indians, and the grocery stores by Chinese. Running along one of the canals, there is a whole tianguis – a market under tarps – of used clothing and shoes from the U.S. Vendors seem to all be Maya, Guatemalan or Mexican. (I’m beginning to confuse these, thinking all Latinos with straight hair are Maya, which they may be. There’s lots of Spanish in the streets of Dangriga!) “Maya furniture” is lovely wooden stuff. There were some produce sellers, and two women selling herbal remedies and candles in the santería colors. I asked about the use of tobacco leaves, and a young guy said they are for rolling joints to smoke weed! Fishermen clean their fish by the canal, surrounded by pelicans who clean up after them.

“Kriol” is the term used for Belizeans of African and English ancestry (and culture and language), and most people in Dangriga and Hopkins are of African ancestry. However, they can be Garifuna, rather than Kriol. I could find no way of recognizing Garifuna unless a person waved the black/white/yellow Garifuna flag.

An elder Black man and woman talked on a bridge. I asked them what I might be able to learn about Garifuna, Roy Cayetano in particular (as recommended by the nurses from Michigan). They know nothing, as they live in the valley and are not Garifuna, but they stopped a younger woman, asking her the same questions, and she told us where he lives. I didn’t find him at home, so at that point I pretty much gave up on my Garifuna mission. The Garifuna Museum wasn’t to open until noon. The next bus back to Hopkins was scheduled for 1030, and the next after that for 1700. I just couldn’t bear the thought of spending all day in town, so I left. I did go to take a photo of the monument to Drums of our Fathers, however! This must be inspired by a fabulous poem by E. Roy Cayetano, “Drums of my fathers”.[35].

East Indians the Kriol call “coolies” or “Hindus”. This may refer to descendants of agricultural indentured workers who came in C19 to work in logwood and sugar cane, brought by Brits. Urban merchant East Indian immigrants are a separate community entirely.  Judging by the prominent orange-and-white temple in Belize City, they identify by religion. They own a lot of businesses, especially clothing. Most people in Belize City greet each other, but not one young East Indian couple. They got out of an SUV, crossed the street and entered a shoe store/building. I’d seen an elderly woman on the top floor, just the top of her head – Grandma.

Much of the commerce in Belize City is owned by Hindus and Chinese, and this is not popular. However, I saw that many of their employees are Kriol.

“Mestizos” are of Guatemalan and Mexican ancestry. They often are of Maya descent as well, so not easy to distinguish from the latter. (Spanish is likely the differentiator.) I asked a man why he wore rubber boots. He said he didn’t speak English, so I switched to Spanish. I could hear him think, “Damn! I thought I could get away from her!” He works in the fields, cutting with his machete. The boots work well in mud, and keep out snakes and ants.

The Mennonite area of Spanish Lookout is around San Ignacio, near the border w/ Guatemala.[36] There are also Amish-Mennonites. They’ve moved down from Canada, it seems, buying up land for market gardens. They’re also in the high country on the way to Dangriga, their settlements distinguishable in part by lawns. I saw two young Mennonite couples in León, Nicaragua, deciding whether to eat in a restaurant with their four kids. They spoke English and had big smiles; I’m pretty sure they were Canadian. The women wore long skirts and headscarves.

Especially in Belize, most convenience stores and grocery stores belong to Chinese immigrants. I asked one owner where he was from; it sounded like Hong Kong, but very mushy, so I likely misunderstood. I asked another the source of the Chinese TV channel she was watching broadcast; she said it was a cable channel, from “Bellycity” (Belize City). However, when I asked where she came from, she said she didn’t know! Taiwan has strong ties with most countries in Central America, and it seems they balance off the influence of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.[37] There is a joint Belizean-Taiwanese agricultural research centre, for example.

An American woman in Hopkins makes whole wheat bread and muffins. Nice stuff! Many of the lodgings are owned and run by North American or European expats, working hard for several months a year to earn enough to live modestly for the rest. They keep track of tour operators, taxi drivers and eateries to advise their guests.

Garifuna drumming and dancing are strong tourist draws. In Hopkins is Lebeha, a drumming school and hostel owned by a woman from Vancouver. The drum group is travelling to British Columbia soon. I happened upon them one afternoon when they were doing a bit of a demonstration for tourists, and saw drumming and dancing later. Enthralling![38]

On the site, the large performance center for the drummers was being roofed. The roofers were Maya, and the roof was of guano – palm fronds, that come “from the bush.” Fronds are sliced down the center vein, then laid down horizontally in overlapping rows on a wooden frame not unlike that of a hogan (or earth lodge). The poles that go upward are put up first, the horizontals lashed to them. On the floor inside the building are stacks of fronds, waiting to go up and be lashed to the roof frame. It looks really neat and tidy from the inside.

Between Dangriga and Belmopan, the bus was quite full of people, except at the back. There, young Maya men (Guatemalans?) were seated, one to a seat.

A young Kekchi woman struck up a conversation with me at the Dangriga bus station. She was on her way to Punta Gorda. She doesn’t speak Spanish, only Maya and English (and Kriol?).


In Bilwi, Ismeña introduced me to Norman Hendry, Secretary of Culture for the GRAAN – the Gobierno de la Región Autónoma Atlántico Norte (Government of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua). He shared samples of indigenous crafts made in the communities he visits: Miskito macramé (crochet?) bag, fish carving, carving of a sukia or medicine man, tuno – fabric made of a tree bark, folded and pounded (tapa?), bamboo. Then he showed part of a documentary on these crafts, the process; notches are cut in bamboo so it can bend, to make “bent bamboo” furniture.

I asked what “cultura” means in the context of his role. On the Atlantic coast are Miskito, Mayangna, Rama, Garífuna, mestizo and Kriol (Afro-descendant) people, who differ in language, cuisine, music, medicine, beverages, housing, crafts, values, etc. It also means territory.

Norman works for a regional gov’t that has to continuously explain and justify to the national gov’t what autonomy and land tenure mean.[39] Although indigenous peoples of RAAN have legal control over their territories, invaders (settlers, colonos) from the Pacific move onto their land. Two mestizo men were recently convicted of fraud for selling land on the Mayangna Bosawas reserve to colonos. The invaders cut clearings immediately, because their purpose is to make money by farming and lumber.[40] “We (the Miskito and RAAN) will not allow this.” It is said that corrupt Nicaraguan government officials have sold access to timber which is supposed to be under the control of RAAN.

In googling Norman Hendry, I’ve learned that he was a councillor for the Miskito region at the time of Hurricane Félix, September 2007[41]. There were well over 100 known dead, and likely many more. The destruction in the Miskito Cays was huge, and in Bilwi too.

Ismeña also took me to the home of her cousin, Jader Mendoza. I don’t know his precise position at the moment, but he has worked for URACCAN, and has travelled a good deal on international indigenous affairs. He’s met Shawn Atleo, for example. His home displays beautiful indigenous handicrafts from many places. As with Norman, the pronoun for “indigenous people” is “we.”

Jader explained that an indigenous “comunidad” is a self-contained settlement outside of a town like this one. People live in extended families, several houses around a single yard. They used to share wells, septic tanks, etc. The practice of sharing is breaking down, though the ideal is not, which causes tension.

Nevertheless, land tenure is communal. It can be rented or leased, but not sold. Indigenous right to territory in RAAN and RAAS is recognized, as the land has never been surrendered. (In other parts of the country, indigenous rights aren’t recognized.)

This may be a case where underdevelopment protects the community. Jader seems to agree that communal use of and control over resources sustains the community; although trees are taken, it doesn’t seem there’s enough development to lure a lot of people into individual salary-earning, so they stay in community.

Like Ismeña, Jader was raised Sandinista. She remembers no deprivations during the war, though many do. Her mother and family were part of the government at that time. His father died fighting the contra war. Half-kidding, he considers suing the gov’t for mis-education. In the alphabet as he learned it, A was for Armas. When it came to arithmetic, they didn’t study “1 apple + 1 apple = 2 apples,” but “1 grenade + 1 grenade = 2 grenades.” Between 1979 and 1987, Miskito was equated with Contra and vice-versa. That pretty much destroyed any pride in being or speaking Miskito. Jader didn’t begin to regain it until going to Mexico to pursue a program in indigenous autonomy, and thus to unlearn all he’d been taught.

Jader speaks of sovereignty and autonomy – the fact that, although it’s much touted, no one really knows what it looks like, and so they’re having to create it. Some say the indigenous people can’t be autonomous; they’re not strong or capable enough. “We” survived a maternal death rate higher than Haiti, with no money for development, for roads, for infrastructure, despite ethnocide – we survived. Of course we can be autonomous.

“Mayagna” (or “Mayangna”) is the term now used for Sumo (or Sumu). They are the other big group, in addition to Miskito, and are the ones who harvest and process tuno. While Miskito liked commerce and contact with the outside and stayed on the coast, Mayagna moved inland to escape the contact. (It’s also possible people are identified as one or the other depending on their subsistence activities.)

Edwin Taylor can deliver a talk on the span of social history of the Nicaraguan Atlantic coast in an hour, flat, with no incomplete sentences and no repetition. Tremendous oratory! The problems between the Atlantic and Managua go right back to the English vs. the Spanish. The English traded with the people of the coast, armed them, and brought in their Protestant churches.  (Anglicans were followed by Moravians, but still totally foreign to the Roman Catholics.) They created a Miskito King to simplify communication and control; there may still be descendants of the King.[42] Then they brought or allowed in freed slaves from the West Indies to use as intermediaries with and supervisors over indigenous peoples. That completed the ethnic hierarchy with Europeans at the top, Africans next, and Miskito over other indigenous peoples at the bottom. When Moskitia was integrated into the Nicaragua in 1894, there was no way the rule of mestizos would be accepted as legitimate, nor was the republic likely to honor a king. Managua had little use for the Atlantic. Hence the feelings of political and economic neglect, the language and cultural differences, etc.

The war the Nicaraguan government fought against the Contras added fresh fuel to the antagonism. The coastal population wasn’t that opposed to the Revolution, but they were heavily influenced by the English-speaking, anti-Communist, anti-Cuban world. They also had plenty of weapons and a tradition of defending themselves. During that war, the Sandinistas committed errors for which they’ll never be forgiven. They evacuated and destroyed some villages near the border with Honduras, razing houses and crops. These were villages where only women, children and the elderly remained.[43]

A 1905 treaty between Britain and Nicaragua (the Altamirano-Harrison Treaty) gives Nicaragua sovereignty over the Miskito reserve. It also establishes conditions for Miskito community land title and autonomy in villages, provided they conform to national law. Edwin thinks the government is making headway by enforcing the Ley Indígena of 1987, which created RAAN and RAAS. He quite possibly thinks this way because he works for the gov’t, but also because he’s an insider and (I’m thinking) knows all the little steps needed before big achievements can be claimed. There have been some big mineral finds in Miskito territory. They’re in a good position, because they’ve never surrendered their land or made a treaty, and they control the resources. In addition, they have URACCAN (Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense), the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast. It was established by the government in the 1990s to serve indigenous and “ethnic” communities (i.e. Kriol, I imagine), providing education tuition-free.

He sees indigenous communities as relatively healthy. Even now, he says, property is seldom individually owned; money and wages are, of course. He spent Christmas in his home community for the first time in years. Edwin spoke of being home this Christmas for the first time in years. They went fishing on New Year’s Day. Boats lay out their nets in huge circles. When it’s time to haul in, all the boats come to help. Guys in small boats, lacking nets, get to keep the small fish, while the captains of the big boats keep the big fish. Similarly, for farming, a fellow sends out an invitation to come to help with the big tasks of clearing the land. Peers come and the day starts w/ a huge breakfast before heading out to the fields. There’s lots of laughter, fooling around; it is believed that the good feeling that goes into working together goes into the soil and into the crop. It’s reciprocated on the fields of all coworkers. When it’s time to harvest, help is requested from those whose fields have failed. (Perhaps widows and other dependents?) They get to keep the gleanings, the small stuff. (It’s a way of sharing w/out charity or pity; there is work involved.)

Although hierarchy is minimal, communities have usually had a headman who calls for communal work, when the road or a bridge need fixing. A council of elders helps him when there are controversies. In more recent years, a sindical has been added – like a treasurer, keeping track of money.

The intruders, the invaders, the people from the Pacific insist on seeing indigenous use of the environment as waste, as misuse. They steal resources (as in Bosawas) in order to make good use of them (i.e. to make money from them) and because they are desperate for land. Typically, they think locals are lazy holgazanes (layabouts).


Somewhere I read that Costa Rican governments consider tourism to be a great industry. It requires no export facilities, has positive effects on all economic sectors, has a great multiplier effect, and results in the development of skills that transfer all over. Tourist resorts create their own infrastructure, which may be used by locals.

Arguments that I recall against tourism include that it results in anger, jealousy, sexual exploitation, distortions employment and the labor force and the alienation of the best locations in the country. There are also the environmental costs of travel, carbon monoxide, water, sewage and electricity.

One reason so many Americans come to live here is because their right to own property is fully recognized, unlike (for example) Mexico, where foreigners are at the mercy of local representatives. However, it isn’t terribly easy for them to get residents’ status. They stay for years, leaving for three days every three months to renew their tourist visas. Nevertheless, they can work, or at least run businesses. Dental tourism is popular (as is sex tourism). Canadian expats agreed that it really isn`t worth spending six months a year in Canada for the health care. Either they are healthy, seldom seeing doctors, or have learned that health care professionals in Central America are highly trained and relatively inexpensive. The cost of living is so low it quickly outweighs any difference.

As was pretty much true everywhere, Chinese immigration was legally prohibited for a number of years, and there were the accusations of using rat meat in restaurants.[44]

            Prejudice against Nicaraguans is rampant in Costa Rica. Nicaraguans are supposedly lazy and ignorant. They overuse the social system, depress wages and displace Cost Rican workers. It’s the usual tripe that serves to conceal the exploitation of a needy workforce.[45]

An article in USA Today explains Nicaraguans come to Costa Rica because the average per capita income in Nicaragua is $2800/year, and $10,900 in Costa Rica. Heading north is becoming dangerous. Seventy-two Central American migrants were executed by gang members in northern Mexico a couple of months ago, supposedly because they refused to work for the gang. (I read about this in Honduras.)

According to Wikipedia, there are 8 indigenous peoples in Costa Rica, about 2.4% of the population (65,000). There are 22 reserves. Overseeing them is the Consejo Nacional de Asuntos Indígenas (CONAI – National Council of Indigenous Affairs). The 1977 Indigenous Law forbids the sale of reserve lands, and permits the state to exploit natural resources on the reserves under the supervision of CONAI, in an ecologically sustainable fashion. The government has just about total control of the reserves, including subsurface mineral rights and the right to authorize archaeological research.[46] (Sounds just like Canada!)

The indigenous communities of the southern area of Costa Rica have declared that the Ley de Desarrollo Autónomo de los Pueblos Indígenas is urgent to them. This law has been the subject of discussion in the Costa Rican legislature since 1998, constantly blocked by disagreement or by changes in elected governments. It is needed to protect indigenous lands from invasion or appropriation by outsiders.[47]

Barry and Nanci Stevens lead El Puente, the program sponsoring Bribri[48] school kids, sustaining a soup kitchen on their property, and providing microloans. It started after they saw a man going through garbage cans to collect food for his family. They made a pot of soup a couple of times a week and shared it with him. Other families began to attend. A woman requested help to prepare her kids for school, and then some requested loans to invest in employment. . .

Nanci and Barry both speak of destructive Bribri family relationships. It’s traditional that men own women and children, meaning men have sex w/ daughters whenever they want, and often impregnate them by the time they’re 14. I have trouble believing that this is “tradition” or that “It’s their culture.” On the other hand, Barry says it used to be a matriarchal society, until the Spanish came and forced them into a war footing, recognizing the source of sexism.

The Bribri have put much effort into independence, maintaining their way of life. Their god Sibú established a whole set of laws making them responsible for jungle, water, and animals. They’ll be punished if these aren’t protected. It’s all about a sustainable way of life. But, says Barry, it is also traditional to have 10 children, due to many deaths by accident and by infanticide. (That’s definitely not sustainable.) The culture permits infanticide when a child is deformed or when it’s not convenient.

Some have been displaced by a hydroelectric dam in a river valley. They come to the town of Puerto Viejo because they must, to find work, for cash. As w/ other indigenous peoples, their traditional livelihood is taken from them. Other things force people into wage employment: e.g. school fees. They question need for education; they’ve lived 3000 years without it. Barry explains to them that w/ literacy and math, technical training is provided free by the Costa Rican government. El Puente assistance is only for families that ask for it; it’s not forced on anyone.

The Bribri and Cabécar were once part of the same people, but Bribri went confrontational, and Cabécar did not. Bribri now have a reserve (as of when?) and some Cabécar are there. They satisfy the blood quantum requirement, but they can’t vote. Barry thinks these rules were developed by the government; I couldn’t find any membership definition in the Ley indígena.

Barry is good friends w/ Bribri cacique Timoteo Jackson.[49] A person becomes a chief because he proves himself – unlike our electoral system that makes a person chief who only then has to prove himself. Timoteo has much knowledge of Sibú. He organizes tours of the reserve, charging well for them.

I wonder whether the Bribri ever used the ocean, and were pushed inland. I haven’t found anything indicating a maritime tradition for any of the Costa Rican peoples, but it looks like the indigenous people moved inland as the Afro-Caribbean people took the shores, after building the railroad and setting up bananas.

A Bribri gardener of Barry and Nanci brought in a couple of stems of bananas. I asked him if I could take a photo, asking about the bananas that I’d seen hanging in blue plastic bags. I’m told these keep wasps off. He said he didn’t know, as he’s never worked on the plantations. His bananas are organic.

The Bribri reservation has cut off land that Afro-Caribeño Costa Ricans were using for banana and/or cacao production. (They came to Central America from the West Indies, most commonly Jamaica.) The Afro-Ticos are really mad, and there are ethnic tensions. They were doing really well cultivating cacao in the 1980s. Then Dole wanted to buy their land for a banana plantation. People refused to sell – and cacao blight (frosty pod rot) broke out and destroyed most of them. There are suspicions the blight was developed in a laboratory. It’s only since then that bananas – especially commercial ones – have to be bagged to protect them from insects and pests. (Anacristina Rossi, in Limón Reggae, points out that the creation of the Cahuita nature reserve also hurt the farmers by taking land out of production. Barry spoke of the Bribri reserve doing the same. The West Indian Ticos have really suffered through the last three decades. The language variant they speak is called Patois.

There are plenty of people of African ancestry in downtown San José. Quite a few seem to be American and look like ex-military. One explained that the U.S. provides protection for Costa Rica, “of course.” All Central America knows better than to mess with Costa Rica, or the U.S. will be right in here. They have no bases, just a presence. Costa Rica is doing as well as it is because of not spending on military.

I can’t seem to find evidence of Costa Rica’s limitations on Afro-Caribeño residence outside of the Atlantic, but I know laws existed preventing them from moving west of Turrialba from 1934 until the revolution of 1948. The primary anti-racist scholar in Costa Rica is Afro-Caribeño Costa Rican Quince Duncan. He argues that slaves were declared free with no preparation to live in a free society. Then, it was determined that tracking their fate was discriminatory, making them, and any discrimination against them, invisible. In his view, tolerance is not enough; a struggle for unity in diversity is the answer. Racism in Costa Rica is based on three pillars: whitening, Europhilia and ethnophobia. [50]

It feels as if the pride Costa Ricans take in being the whitest country of Central America is due to a focus on the “white” portion of mestizo and mulato, the opposite of the “one drop” rule that makes a person Black or Indian in North America.

There’s a real ethnic geographical concentration In Central America: Mestizos in the interior and Pacific coast, Africans in the Atlantic lowlands, Northern Europeans and Americans in the mountains, and indigenous everywhere.


At the Kibbutz de Rita there are parrots, a white-faced monkey, a spider monkey, an oriole, some blue birds, and two Scotch terriers, most in cages, most rescue animals. I’m not sure how I feel about all the cages and leashes. I’ll learn about them.

As might be expected, this B&B has catered to a largely Jewish and Israeli clientele (often Israeli youth completing their military service), and now seeks to attract non-Israelis. The food is wonderfully Mediterranean: breakfast of eggs poached in salsa, eggplant, cream cheese w/ olive oil on top, the latter two to be spread on bread. Rita and Moty have been together for eight years. He’s an immigrant from Israel whom moved here with his first wife and children; she’s Panamanian. They were coworkers, and have had the guest house for three years. She does what she loves – running the guest house, cleaning, cooking and greeting guests. He does what he loves – taking guests on tours. She almost never goes on the tours. The one absolute rule is that nothing disappears from this place. Doors to rooms aren’t locked, and there are no keys.

Rita has pretty much switched over to a Jewish way of life and food rules. There is no pork, no shrimp. She’s got her set of dishes for dairy and for meat and trained her family and other helpers to keep them separate. Pessak is coming; then, no almidón is allowed – starch – so no flour, potatoes, rice, and she’s got a whole other set of cutlery and dishes for that. The clear rules and reasoning of Judaism are very appealing to her after lax Catholicism. She’s been in Israel twice, once for the wedding of a friend of Moty’s, once to visit his mother. Her first trip was very emotional, having grown up her whole life with the images of Israel and the Holy Week. During that trip, she received much advice from the wife of a rabbi during that trip, learning dietary rules etc.

An Ngöbe-Buglé family got on the bus in David, a couple with four young boys. All had haircuts of the type I associate w/ Yanomamo kids in films, or even Chinese bowl-haircuts. There are about 180,000 Ngöbe and 1000 Buglé, on their Comarca (reserve).[51] The people are also called the Guaymí. The Comarca was created in 1997, sliced out of the provinces of Veragua, Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí. There are 3 legislative seats assigned to the Ngöbe-Buglé. For a few years they have been protesting a hydroelectric dam and other development projects. There have been significant protests and highway blockades by Ngöbe-Buglé over the last few years in opposition to mining development, especially inside their Comarca. In 2012, one protester was killed by police.[52]

Coffee and market-garden fincas near Boquete have housing for Ngöbe-Buglé farm workers who participate in harvesting cash crops: sugar cane, coffee, bananas, melons, and tomatoes. From one coffee finca, I took photos of laundry: the women’s beautiful naguas. Entire families move in during harvest, as they’re paid by the amount picked. Some stay year round. The housing is pretty rough. Some are huts; some are made of wood slats, boards, with corrugated tin roofs. Some are long buildings of wood or concrete, with side-by-side rooms, one per family. We drove by one where the sink and tap for each unit was outside the room window giving onto the road.

There have been ugly incidents of anti-American sentiment in Boquete. It’s said they’ve been really heavy-handed moving in there, throwing their money around unless it comes to hiring someone to work for them, in which case they want to underpay. Then they get low-quality work or theft and call the locals thieves. There was a time when they didn’t want to recognize local holidays but did want American holidays celebrated. You just can’t do that, say other immigrants!

I was shown the place where the Indians hang out and do their drinking and fighting in Boquete and, sure enough, one guy was passed out completely while others seemed to be going through his pockets. They are known as lazy, satisfied with poverty and happy to live in shacks.

Although jobs with the Panama Canal Company were steady, there was a Silver Roll (for blacks or West Indians) and a Gold Roll (for whites). The Gold Roll workers were paid more and had far better benefits than those on the Silver Roll. In Panama, their right to vote was taken away in 1941; Anglophone Afro-Antilleans were denied citizenship.[53]



Emanuel is a jewelry maker and vendor in the Tourist Village in Belize City. He shares a large roofed building (think Quonset hut w/out sides), with other craftsmen when a tour ship comes in. A wood carver worked in ziricote wood. They invited me to stay there, as they knew the sprinkle of rain was about to turn into a downpour, but I headed off with my umbrella for the National Handicraft Center nearby. This shop is owned by a woman and run with her assistant. It’s been going 20 years. I looked through carvings, baskets, paintings, jewelry and books. I bought one book, they served me a glass of water, and I sat reading while it rained.

As I left there, I was approached by Charles. He sees himself as a tour guide, historian, and story-teller? He walked with me, talking all the while – thanks to Canada for the Belcan Bridge and for the power plant that gives independence from Mexico for electricity. “Belize” comes from the Maya. (His great-grandmother on his father’s side was full-blooded Kekchi Maya. The recitation of multiple ancestries is common.) He worked my name into every sentence, flattering me, making me feel good – a lot of these guys are knowledgeable and silver-tongued orators. They have a pretty broad social, political and historical analysis. Quite fascinating. At the end, “Would you give a man some cheese?”

Miss Marva, an older Kriol lady with white hair greeted me from her chair in her doorway. She talked about the need to be careful where I go, not to leave the main streets, not after dark, etc. There are bad things happening, like four men murdered in an apartment, slashed, cut up. “We don’t do that here.” David is a Belize City street vendor, jewelry and drum maker, seller of conk (conch) shells. His father was Mexican. David’s drums are made of bamboo and (wild) antelope skin. He explained about the murders: the men had been tortured. People say it was the GSU – the police force’s Gang Suppression Unit. He doesn’t know if the men were gang members – “I just work and go home.” I knew there were cruise ships in the harbor, and asked if he’d had business. No, because tourists been warned: the murders happened yesterday.

These were the people who were concerned that tourists should have a good impression and feel comfortable; it’s their bread and butter, and it’s where they live.

On the bus trip from Dangriga to Belmopan, my seatmate was a young girl who comes from a shrimp farm somewhere on the coast south of Dangriga, near Maya King. Her stepfather, an American, manages the hatching section. She has 5 siblings. She`s in the second of a four-semester diploma in computer programming, but what she really wants is to be a diving instructor. Her stepfather dives and spearfishes every weekend. Kriol, she says, is broken English; instead of “girl”, they say “gyal”. Her mother is “Spanish – like me.”

Flores, Guatemala

In Flores, Guatemala, I looked down at the sidewalk as I walked by a store, and noticed “Aroma de Flores” inscribed. It’s a convenience store with only a very small inventory, and I went in to talk to the elderly man I could see making school uniforms at a treadle sewing machine. His granddaughter was with him. His wife died a year ago. The place was originally her father’s; he had a barber shop, hence the name.

He explained that the buildings in town aren’t that old (i.e. probably not colonial). They used to make all houses of rock and plaster, topped with cane, with a roof of guano (palm fronds). Then the cement blocks and iron rods came in, and that’s what is used for everything now, with corrugated metal roofs.

The island was really quiet and peaceful until about 40 years ago, when the causeway to the mainland was built. Now, all sorts of bad people come over – i.e. strangers. Tourism is good; everyone lives from that.

I took a photo of him and emailed it to his granddaughter this afternoon. She’s a young woman of about 12 – Ileana González. She was using a netbook, so I asked for her email.

The best part of the fiesta for the Cristo Negro in Flores was the food! I got there early and had women explaining their food to me: tostadas topped with guacamole, or chicken paste, or ensalada rusa. Round taquitos filled with beef, or burritos with chicken. I started and ended with a couple of women from San Miguel, aunt and niece, both looking in their early 20s. Aunt told me how everything was prepared, and gave me a glass of agua de Jamaica – hibiscus juice. Another woman sold oranges cut in half, w/ chile sprinkled on. Must try that. I commented on a pretty gold huipil and enredo to the aunt; that’s the kind her mother wears. “And why not you?” I asked. “Because I don’t speak the language.”

In San Miguel, two kids stopped to talk to me, and I took their photo. They are cousins, and a new cousin has just been born. They’re back in school next week after winter holidays. The girl says her stepmother (madrastra) lives in Canada. I chatted w/ a guy who was re-lacing a lounge chair with plastic tubing, and the owner of a store where I got a juice. A really good-looking 46 year old, he was born and raised in San Miguel and has never left – never wanted to. He owns some property in Santa Elena and San Benito, but lives here. Most people work on the mainland (tierra firme, it’s called), but prefer to sleep in San Miguel. The gov’t has offered to build a causeway, but they’ve refused; it’s more peaceful, less crime, more safe for tourists this way. Not that many tourists come, but there is a hotel or two.

Copán Ruinas, Honduras

A store sells Maya herbal medicines in Copán Ruinas. I was drawn in by the red beans drying on the ground outside the doors – offered for sale. The practitioner is a sweet and kind healer, probably Maya, who gives instructions on how to use the medicines. (Her customer, at the time I entered, was a woman driving a Honduras government pick-up.) The husband is a nice Mestizo who would love to visit Canada, a country of moderate people.

I also went into the church at the Plaza. The caretaker was “Doris”. She asked if I had any questions, so I asked who the icons were. We walked around the church as she named them for me, and we did it again to test my memory! María Auxiliadora, Christ crucified, San José el cuidador (the father figure of Jesus), San Judás Tadeo, la Virgen de Dolores, la Virgen de Perpetuo Socorro, María Magdalena, San José Obrero, la Virgen del Rosario, San Antonio de Padua, and perhaps another. These saints have very sad facial expressions!

As I sat in the Parque Central eating the sliced mango I’d bought, a woman sent her kids to me; she was selling the corn-husk dolls made in her home village. She’d brought a bag of dolls to town, and was taking back a sack of corn husks. I paid her for a photograph of the dolls, rather than buy one. She allowed me to give her kids (two of the five!) the pit portion of the mangos. They have no farmland. Her husband sometimes works for others, but it’s hard to earn enough to buy food – which you have to without land to cultivate.

The small hotel, Casa Café, is owned and managed by a Honduran woman and her American husband. He pointed out that the government reports the proportion of the population living in poverty has risen to 65% from 60%. By any measure – lordy! Fátima, who most often tends to guests, didn’t have the means to pursue a post-secondary education, but has trained to be a massage therapist with European teachers, and studies English to help her daughter in school and to communicate with tourists. No lack of effort and ambition there!

César is only 22, but has already worked for 3 years on archeological projects with Will and Barbara Fash, of Harvard and the Peabody Museum. He helped w/ the excavation and putting together of Rosalila, and the hieroglyphic staircase – some of whose glyphs are out of order. (I wondered about that!) They’re now working on a huge new project, Rastrojón, in the hillsides not too far from Copán. If I understood him correctly, a lot of it seems to have sunk underground, perhaps due to landslide or earthquake. A huge face is emerging – it all sounds gigantic. The crew members do many different jobs, surveying, helping carry big equipment, washing pottery shards. He’s been in the storage sheds were huge amounts of jade and carved artifacts are kept. They’re not allowed to take photos of anything, until it’s open to the public. He obviously loves it all, and I told him how impressed I am at all the skills he’s developed – and suggested he keep a list. Will and Barbara often encourage him and his colleagues to go to school for formal training, but he already has a daughter and has to support her. Even without education, he can do interesting work. It made me realize the extent to which archeological materials are a resource, much like a mine would be. As long as they’re still finding sites, still sifting through them, reconstructing, creating the museums, there is work to be done in the field and one can become quite the expert.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

“Rubén” was the taxi driver/guide who showed me Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He pointed out ministries, hospitals, bank buildings, apartment buildings, the stadium, markets, where he and others live, and frequently talked about how things used to be. He can’t be more than about forty, and has been a driver off and on much of his life. He wanted to be in the air force but was let go for physical reasons; his family was in transport, had a cab, which he drove on weekends when he was a student. He worked for a company for a number of years, until it collapsed. That left him with nothing, so back to driving cabs. He’s the type who has regular customers, so I’m sure he does well. He’s way more than a cab driver; he’s a fixer, a guide, even a guard, able to take one into places.

Rubén has two boys, 14 and 16, and two girls (2nd marriage), 11 and 2. His wife is a physician, but can’t work as one; to get a position in a clinic, to get on the government’s registry working with insured patients, there must be political or financial pull. The couple and their daughters live in a neighborhood out of town, beyond Comayagüela. It was built by a developer about 4 years ago. It’s a safe area, with security guards. All vehicles belonging to owners have stickers; others have to identify themselves to the guards at the gates.

Bilwi / Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua

At the Augusto César Sandino airport in Managua, waiting to fly to Puerto Cabezas / Bilwi, I had the great good fortune to meet Ismeña Gómez López, a 31-year old, with her year-old daughter, Jana Camila. After making friends with everyone in the waiting room, the baby gasped in fear as the plane took off, buried herself in her mother’s arms, and immediately fell asleep. What a defense mechanism!

Ismeña works for the government as an inspector of tourist facilities, especially restaurants, comedores and lodgings. She’s of Miskito ancestry through her mother (and identifies as Miskito) and Creole through her father. (He is from Bluefields, or maybe more accurately Corn Island, now living in Ontario. Her brother is married and lives in Norway.) She speaks Spanish, Miskito and English – with diminishing competence. The father of Camila is in New York, and sends child support. He’s Mestizo; his parents live in Managua, which is why Ismeña was there for the weekend, so they could see Camila. For the last couple of generations of Ismeña’s family, the women are educated; men leave, and they’ve turned matrifocal. Her mother worked for the government until retirement. Now she cares for her own mother and her granddaughter.

As I told her what my purposes were, she said, “I know exactly who I want to introduce you to.” She showed me around everywhere and introduced me to people for the two entire days I spent in Bilwi. What luck!

Around Bilwi, I found that people were quite willing to allow me to take photos of them, their merchandise, homes, birds, or cats (the white one).

The first were the food vendors by the campus of the University, who make great chicken stew with rice and cabbage salad! At Playa La Bocana, some boys were playing in the water, and two women waited on the walkway, expecting fishermen to come to shore so they could buy for half the price they’d be able to at the market. A woman allowed me to photograph her making tortillas: she makes a thick circle of dough, places it on a square of plastic, and makes this spin, patting with one hand while maintaining the edge of the circle w/ the other. (Come to think of it, it’s sort of the same idea as the human-propelled pottery wheel in Oaxaca.) A young man allowed me to take photos of the little girls’ party dresses he sold.

I bought 5 bottles of beer in Bilwi. As the young clerk manoeuvered them through metal bars, the bag spilled out two bottles, because I didn’t have a good grip on it. They broke. I was annoyed, but didn’t think it was all her fault. Still, her response was to take all the blame. She should have known to double-bag them! She insisted on replacing them. I gave her a bit of a tip. I thought that was extraordinarily kind!

Because I ran into her accidentally, Ismeña took me to meet an artist who makes tuno. I was seeking one to buy myself, but Ismeña was planning to surprise me with a gift. Tuno are textiles made of the pounded bark of the Castilla tuno tree (somewhat like tapa cloth). This is the fabric from which clothing was once made. Nury is the artist and proprietor of Artesanías Gill. She buys the tuno already processed and treated by the Mayangna. There is the brown, the tuno properly speaking, a white one, and a vegetable-dyed yellow and brown. She cuts out the pieces and glues them onto the original tuno background. She uses carpenter’s glue, and zig-zag stitches around the larger pieces. She showed us one she was making on commission for a motorcycle dealership. It’s an image of the store. Nury learned the craft from an aunt.

Oporta Muller is Nury’s mother. She’s a seamstress. I later returned to ask her how the used clothing sales are affecting her business. There’s much less business than there was. People come to her for special occasions – graduations and the like – at the end of the year, and also for adjustments and alterations to the used clothing. She showed me two women’s suits, one complete and the other ready for a fitting. They were ordered for December, but the women never returned for them, so she’s stuck with them. The one type of clothing not available second-hand: school and other uniforms.

When I wanted photos of graters in her shop at the market, Magdalena Chow offered to help. Her uncle Chow joined us to have his picture taken, too. Her grandparents on her father’s side were Chinese, coming here from Canton. He had a shop, and they’re still in business 2 generations later. She sells kitchen gadgets and home decor, including a spinning Virgen of Guadalupe lamp. We talked about food and recipes, as a result of the grater, and she had someone bring down her daughter Natalie’s wedding photos. Magdalena is a fervent Catholic, and told me of a nearby miracle: a friend has a cloth on which the Virgin has appeared. To some, she is the Virgen de la Concepción; to others, the Virgen de Guadalupe; and those who have no faith see nothing at all. Magdalena is a character, in brilliant red lipstick and blue eye shadow. She talks and laughs a mile a minute!

Granada, Nicaragua

Peder Kolind spearheads all sorts of secular projects in Granada, stimulated by his multiple interests and his need to get something done. He has no respect for NGOs that do nothing very productive, but run fleets of 4-wheel drive vehicles and put people up in expensive hotels. When a Canadian asked him how he could help, Peder suggested he bring thousands of toothbrushes and teach people how to brush. He did so, for a year.

His Carita Feliz is a kids’ center that teaches them money-earning skills and attitudes (the way out – a la Chief Clement) and feeds them. There is also a housing project, rectangular row houses cheaply provided, w/ conditions, rules and discipline. One of his tenants tried to take him to court for expelling her, if I remember correctly. He pointed out that neither she nor any of the other residents owned their units, and she hadn’t paid rent or her utilities for months.[54]

The first I heard of him was from the wife of the manager of Hostal El Momento. Every day at 1400, he meets people at the door to the museum, and provides money for food and drugs to those in need. While I was with him, he sent away a man who came asking for money for a haircut, because it was past 2 p.m. After years of experience, Kolind can recognize a fraud, a scam; it’s a game on both sides.

Among his non-philanthropic interests is Hotel Bocona, a luxurious boutique hotel w/ plenty of modern art and only 6 or 9 rooms. (He suggested I go see the art. When I did, the manager acted friendly but followed me everywhere.)

And he has a sports school. “We will be going to the Olympics.”

I walked by an older man sitting in at his front door, and turned back to chat with him; his sign identified him as a veterinarian, J. Raúl García. He was happy for company and went to get me a chair. He deals w/ farm animals, but people seldom come to vets; there’s not much pay or much work. He studied in Miami and New York. Educated people like vets are selling ice cream. Nicaraguans have little experience or knowledge of pets; they don’t realize they must be cared for as family members. He opposes sterilization because it results in fat cats. There are contraceptives. He’s worked a good deal w/ Doña Donna, who runs an animal rescue clinic, but they separated over the sterilization issue. There’s a lot more crime than there was, especially w/ people sent back from U.S. He advised me to put my camera away, after I took photos of him and his shop sign. Tourists were robbed recently.

At Casa de las Tres Culturas is a local artists’ co-op. Sixty year-old Sergio does miniatures in black ink. Just like the veterinarian, he asked me to pull up a chair, sit and talk. (Talk story!) Sergio is from Mexico, was raised in Puebla, married a Nicaraguan woman, had two kids, divorced, and married a Quebecoise, who died years ago. Then he got together with a younger Nica woman, evangelical with no education, lots of church and clapping. They had a daughter, now five, and separated. He now shares a house with his children and their grandmother – his ex-mother-in-law. They get along well. His son is soon to have a child, Sergio’s first grandchild. Though slim, he has diabetes and had foot surgery months ago. He’s also a chef. He drew me a miniature of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, windmill, trees, and clouds. Granada is a nice place to live, with little crime.

On the bus from Granada to San José, Costa Rica, I sat by a guy on the phone. I never did learn his name. He was large and wide, and usually had a fair amount of weight on my arm, so I pushed back. I think he just didn’t know his bulk. He was hot and bothered, and eventually talked to a guy across the aisle. Most of what they said was muffled and slangy enough I couldn’t get it. When talking directly to me, it was OK. He has a chain of cell-phone shops, and diagnosed what is probably wrong with my computer: it overheats, and one of two fuses is burned out. He was coming to San Juan for inspiration. As we were driving into the city, his enthusiasm erupted: he was so excited about “La pura vida,” and I could see why

Across the bus aisle from us was a slim, elegant girl from El Salvador, about 30, who lives in Masaya baking whole wheat bread. She’s an artist and an artisan (making macramé items using waxed thread), on her way to visit a friend in San José and then to the U.S.

San Josè, Costa Rica

A young woman walked with me in San José, as I tried to find my way. She was in the city to attend nursing school. From Puerto Limón (on the Atlantic Coast), she carefully pointed out that she’s white. She was worried about me walking alone; as usual, all’s well until dark. (I remembered it’s not much different in downtown Calgary. The office crowd splits by 6 p.m., and then the core belongs to a completely new set of people.).

Behind the Mercado de Artesanías in San José were a couple of guys playing checkers on a hand-made checker board w/ big squares. The checkers were caps from water bottle, one set blue, one set green. For “crowning”, they turned them upside down. They allowed me to take a picture. Neither won: they reached a draw.

Having breakfast at a B&B in San José was a Spanish fellow, checking into moving his family to Costa Rica. He is a scientist, developer of an instrument that measures radiation. It helped save his wife with cancer last year. There’s absolutely no opportunity for such work in Spain these days. Of course, he’d only move if he could bring his mother as well as wife and kids. The Spanish have strong family values (implication: unlike North Americans).

My taxista in San José was a Nicaraguan who has lived here for 20 years, half his life. He has his residencia (formal documents), so he’s legal. He came with his mother who died two years ago, leaving him a house in the Cartago neighborhood. He’s living OK, better than he would be in Nicaragua, so he’s not moving back, though he visits. Ticos are very prejudiced against Nicaragüenses. Tico taxi drivers don’t accept him. Ticos want all the prestige jobs – driving, getting around, being bosses. They think Nicas should have only construction, domestic and agricultural jobs. However, he owns his own car, so they can’t stop him – though he doesn’t belong to a cooperative, sharing the expenses of radio taxi.

In the bus line, I made friends w/ Angélique, who lives in Vancouver. She tutors high school students in math. Her parents are Greek. She was raised in Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, then England, finally Canada. She lives in Kitsilano and travels a lot. I’m getting tips from her on Bolivia and Peru. She hated being an adolescent in South Africa (rather like I felt about being in Mississippi). When she was 17, she was driving with a new driver’s license. She collided with an elderly African man on a bicycle, knocking him down and seriously damaging the back wheel. A policeman arrived, and told her to just get in the car and drive home. To the African, he said, “Fuck off, kaffir!”

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Barry and Nanci Stevens coordinate El Puente, a non-profit project with Bribri people in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. They collect funds for school supplies, run a soup kitchen twice a week, and provide some microloans. Unfortunately, the website labeled as theirs comes up with a “This website may harm your computer” warning, so I daren’t go there. Barry never emailed me, either. Lisa took me to meet with him, and we spent a couple of hours talking about El Puente. They take applications from kids going or returning to school. It takes about U$150 to outfit a kid for school (high school more, elementary less). Nanci, volunteers and students take supplies to about 160 students in a number of schools and communities.

Funny; the morning I was to meet with Barry, I walked on the beach. I went to a restaurant on a deck overlooking the water, where there was a woman eating a croissant. We laughed at a sandpiper and a dog playing chase on the beach, in the water, around a boat. She said she’s lived here 10 years, and lives a mile away as the crow flies, just beyond the hardware store. She got involved w/ education project for Bribri kids and a soup kitchen – “Hey, are you Nanci? I’m going to meet with your husband in a couple of hours.” She claimed to have known we’d become acquainted from the moment she saw me. It was kind of obvious, in a way: we’re of a similar age, wearing similar clothing. If a stranger were to describe us, we’d sound just the same. Still, it was fun to meet like that! She’s also an artist, painting beautiful portraits of people and flowers. Their whole lives are dedicated to El Puente, the Bribri project.

Nanci came to Talamanca about 15 years ago w/ her first husband and loved it; she knew she’d spend the rest of her life here. That marriage ended. She met Barry at church they attended in San Diego. Within a few years, they sold off businesses and property in the U.S., both completed divorces, and they moved to CR. They rented their house from a Spanish widow; she and husband contracted HIV here. Barry and Nanci spent house finance money on starting El Puente. Just as their landlady died, a foundation bought the house for the project and N&B get to live there.

Also staying at the Hidden Jungle Beach House are Vicente Socarrat and his friend, Nadia, from Alicante, Spain. Vicente has/had a music production company (and many other occupations!). He spoke w/ huge emotion (choking up) of his participation in a concert honoring Mario Benedetti (Boquitas Pintadas) receiving an honorary PhD, along with Daniel Viglietti (A desalambrar).  Vicente sang pieces by Georges Brassens (on why not to accept honors) and Zitarrosa (I forget the song). Wow!

David, Panama

Seventeen year-old Stefani of David, Panama, is the daughter of Xiomara, who works here w/ Rita at Kibbutz de Rita. Xiomara does Rita’s hair, develops recipes with her, etc. Xiomara’s seven year-old son, Carlos, has the run of the computer and the house. Stefani goes to school two nights a week. The rest of the time she meets with a counsellor, attends a Jehovah’s Witness church, and helps here at Rita’s.

She taught me something about the sale of used clothing. She dislikes shopping at Picadilly, a store w/ all new clothing, because there are so many of each item it’s like buying a uniform. At American Clothing, there’s only one of each.

The bus driver’s helper (secretario?) from San José to David was a Costa Rican man of 40. He recently saw 150 turtles dead on the beaches of an island on the Pacific Coast. Did a ship dump a toxin? He’s a welder and also repairs furniture, guitars and violins. He lives near David, which is safer than San José. The secretario speaks a good deal of English. He’s knowledgeable about politics and current events, fishing (the decimation of centolla (king crab)), Canada and cod. He has worked w/ North Americans, remembering an arrogant jerk. “Don’t tell me how to drive!” as he went 120 in 80 km. zone.

Stan is an American who lives in near Manuel Antonio, in Costa Rica. He has a small farm and is travelling to Panama to renew his visa. He’s with a beautiful young man. He speaks little Spanish despite years in the country, and requires tranquilizers to put up with the bus travel. He was going to Boquete, Panama.

Canadian Tony has lived in San José for 8 years, married to a Peruvian They have 2 children together. He has another three in Colorado over 15, and she has a daughter. He has a business. In David, he stays at the Bambú Hostel and shops for cheap clothing. Things are much cheaper in Panama than CR. (Perhaps some food and clothing are. Hotels aren’t!) He was born in the U.S. of Cuban father and Canadian mother. He’s bought a house in San José and is raising the kitchen roof, remodelling. His kid goes to an “Anglophone” pre-school, where he is learning English with a Spanish accent. Tony takes no photos or cell phones in downtown San José for fear of mugging.

When I arrived at Kibbutz de Rita in David, the living room was occupied by a talkative American who was coming to work on hotel resort in Panama. His Great Dane travelled with him and occupied the rest of the room. He had lived in Puerto Viejo de Limón, but has been in Kansas with his mother for a few years.

Jacqueline’s family owns a store at the bus terminal. I sought directions to the Plaza Central, and she offered to walk with me, as she had errands to run. The store carries fabric, souvenirs, textiles, and string bags, much of it made by Ngöbe-Buglé. She’s a tall woman of about 40, a psychologist, with a 9 year-old boy, Hussein. Her husband was an Arab, and they lived in Lebanon and Jordan before he died. I saw several mosques in Panama.

“Isaac” is an Israeli immigrant, living in Panama City and working in the Free Trade Zone of Colón. He grew up on a kibbutz; they farm and manufacture Teva shoes. He had some school problems due to a learning disability, had to develop his own self-validation criteria, started working young, fought against his father’s violence when he was 13. His parents split when he was 17, and he found himself a confident, self-sufficient adult at 18, doing his military service. He had a breakdown while in service, when he wept through a long, lonely night as a guard, remembering his childhood, grieving the lack of a relationship with his father, perhaps grieving for his father as well. He has a close relationship with his mother. Colón, he says, is an Afro-Panamanian ghetto, too dangerous to live in. His grandmother travelled to Austria and went nuts; she threw trash all over the gardens around parliament building. Arrested, she refused to speak w/ police in interrogation, though she speaks 5 languages. Police relented once they saw her tattoo; she’s a concentration camp survivor. This history also explains Isaac‘s father’s lack of emotional expression, and his occasional brutality.

Andrés is from Buenos Aires, with a PhD in economics. He left Argentina because of the political economics of Fernández’s government, which inhibits exports and won’t allow purchase of dollars, with an annual inflation rate of 30%. His Panamanian wife, Rita’s friend, hasn’t been to Argentina yet. They married this year. She works in computers. He doesn’t drink mate; it’s too working class, and he doesn’t like the idea of sharing the bombilla.

Panama City, Panama

Michael, the taxista-guide in Panama City, is probably close to 30, has a 12-year old son and is expecting another child; a third died at 8 months. The mother of the child coming lives in Chiriquí with her mother, who has epilepsy. That’s where he’s from too, close to the border. (David is in the province of Chiriquí.) He wears a crisp white shirt while driving his impeccable white car. He commented on the slang spoken by a parking-lot attendant; his father would never let him talk like that, because it’s the speech of “malandros” – gang members, street talk. He once worked for a guide company, then for a condominium management company– a headache, we agreed – and then bought his own car.

Luis is the evening front desk clerk at the Barú Lodge. He’s Afro-Panamanian. He likes his job because of the constant variety but, once, he almost quit. A guest wouldn’t allow him to carry his suitcase, “porque me vas a ensuciar el equipaje.” (You’re going to soil my luggage.”) Luis looked at his hands, puzzled, then realized the guy meant because of his skin color. Luis went to his room and placed the keys on the dresser, rather than handing them to the man. The guest treated the breakfast servers the same way. Luis spoke to the owner, who said to kick the guy out. So Luis did, knowing there were no rooms in town.



Belize City: I’m often warned not to walk off the beaten path, i.e. into poor neighborhoods; craftsman David warned me to always make note of a taxi driver’s license plate and name, if I wanted to see those areas. I think I can understand the dangers of the poor areas: there is (understandably) much resentment against rich tourists. Stay in your own area, w/ the cops to protect you; we’ll accept that and leave you alone. Come into our area, however, and we’ll want to know what your business is, and will feel free to take from you. I also notice businesses w/ locked doors: the National Handicraft Outlet, Marlin’s restaurant next door to the hotel. They open to customers when they choose. Lock doors, don’t open windows. In the Guardian newspaper one day was a listing of criminal trials coming up in Cayo and Belize City: 21 murders, 39 attempts to commit murder, 7 serious assaults, 1 careless conduct resulting in death, 7 rapes.

Belize City: Nearly everyone says hello; actually that’s what I say; I’m not sure what they say. One greeting between men is, “Respect.” Many welcomed me to Belize. Enjoy yourself. My name is – shake hand. It`s like all are saying, “I see you,” in the same way I used in Cuba. We can never again be anonymous strangers.

But as I walked on the edge of downtown Belize City, a fellow questioned why I was there. A couple of blocks later, I heard him walking behind me. Then he suddenly crossed the street, heading away (though he was still a good ½ block behind me), and I saw a police car was approaching us. They stopped, got out, and searched him.

The newspaper provides a fascinating account of the murders in Belize City.[55]

The men were members of the George Street Gang. (Taylor’s Alley is a significant rival gang.) They were 19, 28, 30 and 40 years of age. When police went to retrieve the bodies and investigate, people threw rocks and bottles at them, accusing the Gang Suppression Unit of the assassinations – that it was a state-sponsored execution. The police fired shots – perhaps warning shots into the sky, perhaps into the crowd. No one else was injured. Prime Minister Dean Barrow said:

1. The Bad News – the George Street Crew is absolutely satisfied that the Gang Suppression Unit was responsible for the alleged state-sponsored murders this morning.
2. The Good News –  that because of this false assumption, the George Street Gang will not take retaliatory measures against any other gangsters or member of the public.
3. The George Street Gang leadership has left Belize City for a furlough with the assistance of the security forces.
4. Everything is under control and all schools and businesses will re-open tomorrow.

Prime Minister Barrow confirmed that a proclamation of curfew will be done tonight sealing off Zone 4, a large area of gang-infested south side Belize City to enable security forces to lock down the area.

It’s obvious people are really scared. Schools and banks were closed yesterday because of fear of a retaliatory strike by the gang. This is felt to be one of the most horrific crimes ever carried out here. After all, there are only about 80,000 people in the city, 350,000 in the country. Commentators, including the general public, just keep asking for calm and unity, especially to avoid tourist loss. (Vendors catering to tourists are just about desperate.) That’s partly why they’re being so friendly to me. More people than usual gave us guidance walking to the hotel from the bus stop, I now realize, and police were especially likely to greet me. It is said the Lebanese community feels unprotected; a couple of Lebanese were gunned down in October and January, by unknown assailants and for unknown reasons.

It’s no wonder I loved sleeping with open windows in Hopkins!

On January 16, I read the newspaper, and it made going to Tegucigalpa, Honduras pretty scary. A British tourist was shot and killed when he wouldn’t hand over his video camera to thieves who’d leapt out of a taxi, and leapt back into it for their getaway. Another six people at least were killed in the country; with most, one can feel they had gang or drug connections. Oh, but two were security guards. I was about to say “no women” – but one of those two was.

There are twenty people murdered in Honduras every day. The World Health Organization calculates that 9 homicides per 100,000 population per year is average. Honduras has 86.5. Over 7000 last year.  Murdered.  I weep as I write. It is so wrong that people have to live with this! A woman on TV is saying now (January 17) that the police are responsible for a good deal of it. There are also a lot of kidnappings, many of which don’t make it into the news or into the statistics, because families keep it quiet. Then there are demands for protection money. In short, people can trust no one, and have no one to call for help. This is partly because of the military coup that expelled the elected president in 2009 – because he was planning unconstitutional changes to the constitution.

I wrote:

“This is one of the most uncomfortable nights I’ve spent. The Bed and Breakfast in Tegucigalpa is hard to find, well hidden – behind the US embassy, perhaps, but the entrance at the official address is not opened; one has to go around the block through a gate w/ a different number altogether. Unconventional. It’s a sprawling place. I’m in a room about the quality of a low-end university dorm room, but passable. What I don’t like is that I’m miles away from anybody. There is a guard, but I don’t think he’s near me. There are metal bars, and I don’t think anyone could reach me; I’ve barred the door with a table and TV, plus the locked door and deadbolt. Not a great deadbolt. The wind has died down a little. It was spooky, with a cold front moving in. I arrived after dark and went to a mall two blocks away, in a supposedly safe area. When I asked a building security guard on the way to confirm the route, he wanted me to take a better lit street. There were armed guards everywhere along the way. Coming back, I had him to wave to.

Perhaps I’d talked myself into being apprehensive!

The main thing Rubén did for me in Tegus was to keep me safe. Cabs can’t be trusted because they forge official taxi numbers and decals and stick them on doors. Then they pick up women, force them to withdraw everything possible from ATMs, and dump them anywhere. He told me when it was safe to take photos (i.e. indoors), and when it was not safe to count money (i.e. in a car with locked doors). He told me where it was safe to withdraw money – not from the ATM in a mall, not from a bank, but from a gas station. (Even there, he checked to ensure the machine had cancelled out after my transaction, that it couldn’t be used by anyone else.) That’s a place one spends little time, no one knows why you’re going in, you’re in and out and moving on. Everyone knows why you’re going to a bank, and anyone can follow and target you in a shopping center. I think he’d say to pick a safe hotel, leave the debit card and unneeded cash there, and withdraw plenty of money at once.

Rubén tells me it’s illegal for men to ride on motorcycles as passengers, because they could well be hit men. No one goes to cemeteries, except for an actual burial, because everything is stolen from tombs, including corpses sometimes, and because nobody else goes, so it’s dangerous, except on Mother’s Day!

Going through the streets of Tegucigalpa – and the malls, and everywhere else – there is the distinct feeling of everyone avoiding meeting the eyes of everyone else. (The museum guide said otherwise.) High schools no longer run an evening session, because some students have been murdered on their way to or from class. People no longer stay out partying until dawn; it’s too dangerous. The hotel manager, people on the news, in the newspapers, letters to the editor – speak with real fear and frustration of what this country has become, especially with the potential of corrupt policemen and/or politicians.

And I’ll always associate this tension with the gusts of wind that keep me so edgy (any maybe a little cold). During the night, when I was awake, I kept thinking that this kind of fear and edginess is what many people on earth live with. I’ve just never had to. It’s like being in a war zone. Whatever is loose is stolen, desperate people turn to crime to meet their needs (I’m quoting Rubén), and people are killed if they won’t give up what others want. Don’t bother with vehicle insurance. Vehicles are often stolen, and the insurance companies won’t pay. Ditto for health insurance. Politicians borrow from foreign countries, and the people have to pay it back whether or not they’ve seen a benefit. Unemployment and poverty are at the base of it all.

Nicaragua seemed so much more relaxed! Why should the crime rate be lower? [56] Certainly there were areas of Granada I was discouraged from going to at night, and one man did warn me to keep my camera out of sight, but the plaza was full of people all day, at least.  provides some answers, I think. Roughly speaking

  Nicaragua Honduras
Proportion of population living below poverty line 50% and diminishing Over 60% and increasing
Income share of richest 10% 41.8% 42.4%
Gini score (higher score = greater inequality) 40.5 57.7

Corrupt politicians concern everyone, but the concern seems greatest in Honduras. In La Prensa of January 17, 2013, the political cartoon shows an obese politician – labeled “Congreso Nacional” – shovelling in food from a bowl labelled “Préstamos para Honduras” (loans for Honduras).  A poor guy underneath the bowl tries to catch some of the overflow. In other words, the politicians want the loans that others have to pay back; they benefit by way-laying some and dispensing the rest to benefit themselves. Cardenal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez says that the debt holiday, permitted to Honduras under the Ricardo Maduro regime, was wasted. Instead of being used to reduce poverty, as was stipulated, it was taken by the rich. It’s a sin, he says.

That same newspaper edition reported that 11 people were killed in Tegucigalpa overnight; no arrests. In San Pedro Sula, it was 8; no arrests. Police held a check stop. “Por la noche sí estaban activos los retenes policiales que, curiosamente, se montan siempre en los mismos puntos de la ciudad, por lo que los delincuentes ya saben por dónde no circular para evitarlos.” (Curiously, the check stops are always in the same places, so delinquents know where not to go.) One of the dead was a 17 year-old mechanic, tortured and shot through the head. He was dead.

In Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, the concern seems to be to lock up securely whenever leaving home, though shutters can be left wide open at night – probably because there are barking dogs! It is said to be Bribri custom to take whatever is needed; it`s not seen as theft. In modern times, most people know better, but thieves use the excuse of tradition.

As I’ve said, Panama City seems difficult to navigate. Nothing seemed to be labelled, or maybe I’d just become cocky. When I came to a church, I decided it was the Cathedral. Instead, it was Iglesia Santa Ana. I stopped for a coffee in a Pío-Pío (fried chicken outlet), and must admit, I noticed it was pretty rough. There was a guard inside. On the other side of the window by which I sat was a guy in a chair – perhaps an improvised wheelchair. Men approached him to buy single cigarettes and mickeys of gin. Other parcels and money changed hands, too. I knew better than to take a photo. Thinking that beyond the Cathedral was the Plaza de Francia, I kept going in that direction. I noticed the neighborhood was increasingly rough, considering it was supposed to be an area being rebuilt for tourists, but I put on my “tolerant” attitude. There were always people around – but the wrong kind of people, I guess. I finally asked a guy for Plaza de Francia. He passed me onto one of many people in a diner. At least half a dozen people leapt up, pointed me in the right direction, asked what the hell I was doing in such a dangerous place, and immediately sent me off with a cab driver.

As I’ve often said, I try to keep myself out of danger because it upsets others at least as much as I – especially as I sometimes don’t even know enough to be afraid.


In Belize, I kept wanting to speak Spanish! I had to learn how to say “Bileez” to rhyme with “please” rather than “Belice” to rhyme with either “dice” in Spanish or “niece” in English. Belizeans, rather than Beliceños. Most people are at least bilingual, speaking English (the official language) and Kriol[57]. I do not understand conversations between people (though I have fun trying!), and seldom understand anyone unless they are speaking directly to and for me.

In Limón, Nicaragua, people speak Patwa; in RAAN, they speak criollo/Kriol, English-based Creole. It seemed to me that they did not think of themselves as speaking anything associated with English.

For example, on the bus from Honduras to Nicaragua was a 27 year-old man, a criollo (Afro-) Nicaraguan from Bluefields. He spoke in slightly awkward Spanish about himself: he’d spent the night sleeping outside the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula, curled up around his backpack; “If you relax and sleep, you lose your bag.” He’s mostly worked in fishing, and had gone to Honduras to take courses for the merchant marine. He was sent back to Nicaragua to return in a few weeks’ time. An older fellow sitting in front of us overheard and started talking to the young guy in Creole. He wasn’t black (but not altogether white) but obviously knew the language and also knew about merchant marine school, giving him advice. It didn’t seem to occur to either of them that they were speaking a language I might understand better than Spanish. Just as well, because it was easier for me to understand the standard Spanish of Creole Nicaraguans than their Creole!

I learned that I say “No kidding!” far too often. I used it with a Belizean who had no idea what I meant, which was, of course, “Isn’t that the truth!” I guess it’s the sarcasm that makes it hard to understand. Rather like the panicked look of a waiter when I asked him where to “cancelar la cuenta.” In Chile, that means to pay the bill; the only thing it might have meant in Mexico was to refuse to pay it!

Fátima was trying to make sense of a Dr. Seuss book which she is to read with her daughter. It went along the lines of, “What if you had a nasket in your basket?” with made-up words allowing one to invent their meaning. It took some doing to explain Seuss’s word play, and how it helps with language learning – and imagination.

At the airport in Managua I first encountered what to me was a mismatch between people’s appearance and their language. Around me were people of all colors speaking Creole. (Ditto for Spanish-speakers!) I can find no way of predicting who speaks which languages, or how to address them. Actually, I guess the best thing is Spanish, which is official. On the other hand, it’s fun to go English in order to listen to Creole!

Bilingualism in Costa Rica was very common, so much so I’d start off a conversation with a phrase in each language, not sure which one the person would use! Their Spanish was often hard for me to understand, as well, unless they were carefully enunciating.

I’m pretty sure I saw the word “hulería” used to designate a tire shop – like a ponchera elsewhere – Mexico? “Hule” was definitely used for rubber. It’s usually “ule.” A new version today: “Jantera,” more commonly “Llantera.”

The word “halar” is pronounced “jalar,” and means to pull – as in pull a door open.

In Panama,“cuara” (with the Spanish “r”) means “quarter” (as in coin). “Ayote” is squash.

Twice I saw highway signs for Santuario Las Lapas and wondered what saint that was – then remembered a “lapa” is a macaw – i.e. a macaw sanctuary!

Ngöbe-Buglé women process palm fiber to make mesh bags of all sizes. They’re so durable and strong they’re even made to carry babies. They’re called chácaras – the same term used for the oropendola birds that build long nests that hang from tree branches.

Instead of calling their children by name, parents often address them as “papi” or “papito,” or “mamita.” There must be a linguistic explanation for this – using reflexive kin terms of endearment. Husband and wife often call each other “papito” and “mamita,” even if they’re not parents. For that matter, I was often addressed as “mami” or “mi amor”!

In Panama, quiebraplatas are fireflies.


In Hopkins (and pretty much everywhere), women wear fairly tight slacks and tops. Men wear loose knee-length or long trousers and tee-shirts or guayaberas. Only older women wear dresses. On Sunday morning, women wear pretty dresses and purses, and most wear shoes – fancy shoes, like silver heels on a twelve year-old. Children who aren`t going to church have messier hair on Sunday than any other day!

Hair is a big deal in Belize. A lot of time is spent braiding and dressing it, adding extensions. There are an awful lot of hair accessories such as clips and elastics in the variety stores. Riding buses, I see why: every little girl has dozens of braids.

Some men wear huge bundles of hair under rasta hats. Could it possibly all be attached? Women’s hair is almost always braided, never cut really short.

Today’s indigenous (Maya Chorti) women in Copán Ruinas wear an A-line or pleated skirt and a short-sleeved blouse. It’s the contemporary version of the huipil and enredo, serving to identify one as Maya. I saw no enredos and huipiles there. Mestizo women wear trousers.

Market women wear aprons in Nicaragua, as in Mexico, but here they’re composed of many lacy frills. I think that helps to obscure pockets.

Except in Panama, I saw almost no new clothing in stores. Just as food aid benefits donors and threatens local food producers, clothing donations threaten local clothing producers and textile industry.[58] (Not that much of this is local any longer, as most textiles are made in India or China.) Clothing donations are a result of cheap clothing costs, so that those of us in rich countries can buy a whole lot more clothing than we can use. We have an individual surplus of clothing which we give away. What the used clothing stores (like Salvation Army or Value Village) can’t get rid of, they sell to wholesalers. The wholesalers sell by the bale to South and Central America, Asia and Africa. This market is worth enough to wholesalers that they steal from and spoil each other’s bins, set out bins without authorization, claim support of charities – though it’s actually minimal – etc.

However, used clothing goes both ways! It’s obvious that stitches have been removed from the top corners of many of the molas sold in Panama; they were once part of a blouse worn by a Guna (Cuna, Kuna) woman, until she decided to sell them and stitch new ones! (Rather like wall hangings made of the beaded and embroidered sections of East Indian wedding clothing.)

In a funeral procession at Puerto Cabezas, everyone was dressed in purple, black, white or blue.

It was at the bus depot in David, Panama where I first saw Ngöbe-Buglé women wearing short-sleeved, long dresses of cotton with a wide sailor’s collar (of dacron – broadcloth?). There is trim around collar, waist, sleeves and hem. Each one was different color and trim combination. They make the trim themselves – VVVVVV and zig-zag.[59] I tried to talk to one to ask what it was called; why did I want to know? She was suspicious; and I think they’re unlikely to allow photos. Women and girls of all ages wear the dress, which Panamanian women call “nagua” or “enagua.” Some men’s shirts are also trimmed. The men wear lots of different hats – flat-rimmed, striped cowboy. There is one hat men wear with the front brim raised. Men wear wide-legged trousers tucked into rubber boots.

As I walked down the pedestrian Avenida Central (Peatonal) of Panama City, I started to see Kuna women. They wear flip-flops and strings of beads around their calves applied in such a way as to make a design. Above that is a wrap-around skirt of very bright fabric. 36 or 45” wide, it’s animals, plant or geometrical designs of one main color on a black background. (Orange is very popular, but not universal.  It costs $3-5, depending on the store.) Tucked into that is a short-sleeved pullover blouse of a printed fabric, often cotton. Molas are stitched onto that, front and back. Last is a rectangular band tied around the head, or a head scarf. The color sense is fantastic – a color is repeated (though not exclusively) from skirt to blouse to leggings.  Most women have short hair.[60] Their Spanish is a little awkward, but quite adequate for explaining motifs and for selling molas. Their price depends on the number of fabric layers. They’re done with a combination of cut-outs and appliqué, and may have embroidery stitches on top.

Molas are often elaborate and tell quite a story. The woman from whom I bought a couple of allowed me to take a photo of hers. There are elements telling of her life. One she was selling had “2007” on it; it’s the year a really important cacique died, and was done to commemorate his death. The molas are joined together in strips with large stitches. There were a number of women selling on the sea wall around the Plaza de Francia, which provides beautiful views out to sea and across to downtown.

There are lots of fabric stores on the Peatonal! I expect Kuna women contribute a great deal to their viability because they do so much sewing. A merchant pulled out samples to show a Kuna couple, saying they’d just arrived, were exclusive, and no one else would have them. There is likely a whole lot of competition between makers of molas.

Panamanian men seldom wear the “Panamanian hat;” much more common is a cowboy hat (my term) or a “sombrero pintao” – a straw hat with round brim, with stripes woven in, worn with the front brim turned up.[61]

TRAVEL TIPS and bits and pieces

I have finally solved one mystery! There is a periodic chirping (about 10 times) just outside a window – seemingly near the air conditioner – and it’s not the first time. Tonight one chirped when I was outside to see the fireworks: a gecko! Then another! The scratching in the roof was likely bats, not mice.

One of the best things to carry with me is my thermal mug. It keeps coffee hot and beer cold, and prevents condensation. I also love my big toothbrush (for scrubbing shoes), extension cord, paring knife, corkscrew, spork, and washcloth (for wiping sweat).

Border crossings require at least three steps: departing one country, entering another, and taking possessions through customs. Countries differ in terms of departure and arrival payments, sometimes depending on mode of travel, and they aren’t always official. Being a Canadian, mostly experienced with the long U.S. border, it felt like I was constantly crossing borders!

Carry reading material, two beverages and nuts when travelling by bus. Also earplugs to block the soundtrack of X-rated movies with scenes of horrific violence, torture, rape, and murder.

I learned to buy bus tickets as soon as I knew when I’d want to travel; they run out. I saw people with a ticket refused a trip, because somehow their name didn’t get on the list. If crossing an international border, take a passport to buy the ticket. Be prepared to pay cash.

Only in Panama (i.e. David and Panama City) was there one bus depot serving all bus lines. Elsewhere, each company has its own office. That’s confusing to those of us who assume there is only Greyhound! Locals don’t always know where to go, so it requires some research.

Seating etiquette varies. In some places, no one gives up a bus seat to anyone but the very old; to the contrary, they sneak by to take a vacated seat. First come, first served. Another passenger may take a woman’s child on her lap, but the mother isn’t seated. A woman beckoned me to sit with two little boys. That was nice – and too late, I thought I should have offered the boys chewing gum. Elsewhere, three women commonly share a seat, men and women will do anything to avoid sitting with a stranger of the opposite sex, and the bus driver’s assistant encourages people to rearrange themselves so those travelling together can sit together.

Erwin, at the front desk of Barú Lodge, explained Panama City buses. There are American ex-school buses, most of them wonderfully painted. (Michael tells me there are artists in workshops who do this work for next to nothing.) They cost $0.25. There are also very modern Marcopolo buses (made in China, I think), air conditioned. They cost the same, but require a pre-paid chip card. It costs $2 for the card, topped up as needed. He loaned me one, and I put $10 on it. It’s fast and efficient to get to Terminal Albrook (the bus depot).

Hotel Don Carlos in San José is fabulous, though refreshments are expensive. Churros rellenos and expresso on Avenida Central are wonderful. Aromas at the Mercado Central at 4 p.m. include fresh (raw) meat, fish, herbs, aloe, sage, thyme, rosemary, mint. I was so pleased to take photos of the booth with medicinal herbs! The sopa de mariscos is served w/ a side dish of boiled plantain hunks and half a sour orange (green skin, orange flesh, not small, very sour), tabasco, and chayote, for U$5.

There is nothing like market food! Restaurant food doesn’t come near to it in flavor and freshness, not to mention price! Instructions; go into market and sit at a diner feeding lots of people. Order from what you see others having. I learned my lesson from ending up in the wrong part of Panama City and, asking lots of people, found the Mercado del Marisco for really good fried fish. The market is large, white and concrete, the interior at least three storeys high. The restaurant is on the second floor, overlooking it all. There are great diners outside the market, too.

I’ve seen signs advertising “pipas”: that’s the green coconut, pierced so the juice can be drunk with a straw!

Granada was one of many places where I got myself totally disoriented. For some reason, I couldn’t accept that the hostel was north of the Plaza; I was convinced it was east, and couldn’t make myself believe otherwise.

Women constantly mop and sweep floors.

Old men sell lottery tickets. Why don’t they approach me? Can’t immigrants win? It looks like a retirement job.

Huge baskets are used to take products to market. In the evening, buses are piled high with empty ones.

Costa Rica’s national virgin is the Virgen de los Ángeles, “La negrita”. La Virgen Santa María de la Antigua is to become Panama’s. One figure can have so many manifestations![62]

At the Bilwi airport, arriving passengers wait while their luggage is downloaded from the plane, the luggage trailer uploaded onto the aircraft, the trailer re-loaded with arriving luggage, and then the luggage trailer hauled manually to the terminal. The guys have to pause to rest on the way in. This is a plane of about 40 passengers.

Most foreigners in Bilwi seem to be of the development crowd, or at least the politically involved. They’re frequently seen listening to lectures about the political situation, labor unions, indigenous rights, poverty, youth, etc. The locals are great orators.

I found two bookstores in Granada; one mostly English. The other was beside  Casa de los Tres Mundos. The authors whose books take up the most shelf space are Isabel Allende, Gioconda Belli and Paulo Coelho. (I guess I`m not counting novels translated from the English.) Slim pickings, as most everywhere in the world. San José had a couple of decent bookstores. I saw very few people reading; almost none on buses, for example. No wonder there are few bookstores and few books – or is it the other way around, few readers because of few books? Literacy does not seem to be valued much. Having said that, I saw no one else reading on a bus trip from Calgary to Grande Prairie, either.

I gave away C90 in Granada. When I bought a newspaper, the vendor said it cost C100. I believed him, noted his hesitation when I paid for it, and thought it awfully expensive. Sure enough, I should have paid C10!

I’m trying to think of how to characterize the people of Central America, overall. Of course, it can`t be done. It would be true to say that people in Belize City seem to greet everyone – probably because they are fairly certain visitors speak their language. People in the biggest city, Panama City, don’t. However, there as everywhere, whenever I approached people with a question, they were always helpful and friendly, and I’ve provided plenty of examples of when they went far beyond that. I know that part of my positive experience is because I speak Spanish, but most of it is because people are happy to engage. Moving as frequently as I did in six weeks is not ideal, but I really wanted the overview.

[2] Ruta étnica en Honduras (n.d.). In Tourist Options. Retrieved February 19, 2013  Lists indigenous groups.

Cooper, Mary E. Fu and Cooper, Robert C. Padgett (n.d.) Honduras Arts. Retrieved February 19, 2013.  Some artists and art forms.

[3] If more photos are needed, see

[4] This site seems to be dedicated to parks, museums and monuments in Nicaragua. It’s put together with overlapping images and repetitious content, but has links to videos and much else.

[5] La Catedral de León. Retrieved March 2, 2013 from

[6] William Walker (filibuster). (2013, February 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:54, March 3, 2013, from

[11] Belli, Gioconda (January 3, 2013). Me duele un país en todo el cuerpo. In Belli’s Blog, retrieved February 19, 2013 from

[12] Misa Campesina Nicaragüense. (2012, May 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:09, February 20, 2013, from

and go to youtube!

[13] Convention for the Construction of a Ship Canal (Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty), November 18, 1903. Retrieved March 4, 2013 from

[15] Tour Copán with David Stuart. Nova.

Copán. (2012, December 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:05, January 16, 2013, from

Stuart, David (1996). Hieroglyphs and history at Copán.


Copán. (2012, December 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:12, February 19, 2013, from

Copán images

[17] Hurricanes and tropical storms affecting Belize since 1930 (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2013 from

[18] Edward Despard. (2012, October 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:56, February 24, 2013, from

[22] Firman prórroga para protección de bienes culturales(Noviembre 9, 2005) La prensa.

Tras la actividad, la directora del INC* lamentó la resolución que la Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) emitió en julio de este año para restar al Instituto la facultad de decomisar piezas arqueológicas y obligó a éste a regresar 2,300 piezas que había decomisado al danés Peder Kolind.

*Magdalena Ubeda, Instituto Nacional de Cultura.

[26] Pre-Columbian gold museum of the Banco Central: text & some photos.

[27] (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica Good stuff!)

[28] Mysterious spheres of Costa Rica finally being recognized (May 30, 2012). In The Costa Rica News. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from

Hoopes, John W. (n.d.) Stone balls of Costa Rica. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from  Really good!

[33] Panama Canal Zone. (2013, February 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:26, February 18, 2013, from

Memories of the canal zone. Retrieved February 18, 2013. Anecdotes of kids, especially, raised in CZ.

[34] Ignacio, Joseph O. (n.d.) Garifuna History. Garifuna Heritage Foundation.  Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United (Los Angeles)

[35] He’s also a linguist, with an interesting article on Garifuna orthography (spelling): Towards a common Garifuna orthography, at National Garifuna Council of Belize

[36] Naturalight Team (n.d.) From Hardship to Success: Celebrating the Mennonite’s
50th Anniversary in Belize. Belizean Journeys.  A great photogallery, too.

[37]         Interesting articles on Taiwan vs. China in Central (and Latin) America:

Forman, Johanna Mendelson and Moreira, Susana (n.d.) Taiwan-China balancing act in Latin America.

Erikson, Daniel P. and Chen, Janice. (n.d.) China, Taiwan, and the battle for Latin America.

[38] See them at Lebeha RAW: Garifuna drumming from Belize. Retrieved February 23, 2013 from

Warasa garifuna drum school. Retrieved February 23, 2013 from

[39] Mattern, Jochen (2002). Autonomía Regional en Nicaragua: una aproximación descriptiva: informe final. Elaborado para: PROFODEM/GTZ, Componente Fortalecimiento del Proceso de Descentralización. Retrieved February 21, 2012 from

[40] Emergency in Bosawas: the struggle of the Mayangna. German Development Service and Promedia/Esta Semana. Retrieved February 21, 2013

Some of the indigenous clothing, dance etc. looks fake, but the political and economic processes don’t. T

[41] Morel, Blanca (Septiembre 9, 2007). Nunca sabremos cuantos muertos dejó el huracán Félix.  In El nuevo diario. Retrieved February 19, 2013 from

[42] Helms, Mary (1996). Miskito. In Encyclopedia of world cultures. Retrieved February 20, 2013 from

Little evidence of kings, she says.

[43] Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (OAS). Retrieved February 20, 2013 from

[44] Loria Chaves, Marlene (Abril 29, 2010). Los inmigrantes chinos dentro de la comunidad costarricense (1870-1910). In Historia Costa Rica. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from

[45] Mitos y realidades de la migración nicaragüense en Costa Rica (2013). Asociación Ticos y Nicas: somos hermanos. Retrieved February 2, 2013 from

Inmigración nicaragüense en Costa Rica. (2012, 26 de noviembre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:39, febrero 3, 2013 desde

Racismo en Costa Rica. (2012, 25 de diciembre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:45, febrero 3, 2013 desde

[46] Indígenas de Costa Rica. (2013, 23 de enero). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 02:41, febrero 22, 2013 desde

Costa Rica (1977). Ley indígena No. 6172. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from

Guevara Berger, Marcos (2000) Perfil de los pueblos indígenas de Costa Rica. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from

[47] Statement by Mesa Nacional Indígena de Costa Rica, retrieved February 21, 2013 from

Hay 24 reservas indígenas en Costa Rica – autónomas, inalienables, desde 1977.

[48] About the Bri-Bri:

Idiomas indígenas de Costa Rica:

Hert, Ken Jr. The hidden people, about the BriBri and the curandero Don Candido. Available for purchase for $20 – at least in the U.S. Canada?

[49] See Timoteo Jackson (and others) on youtube

Another film involving Timoteo: Silent snow on the use of pesticides on banana plantations and effects on Arctic, released 2011.

[50] Quince Duncan (n.d.) In Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from

Duncan, Quince (2001) Ensayo contra el silencio. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from

Duncan, Quince (n.d.). Doctrinarian racism. In Quince Duncan. Retrieved February 20, 2013 from is a great Afro-Costa Rican blog.


Ngäbe-Buglé (comarca). (2012, 4 de diciembre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 14:15, febrero 10, 2013 desde

(Note the differences in spelling.)

[52] Meléndez, José (Febrero 6, 2012). Continúan las protestas indígenas contra un proyecto minero en Panamá. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from

Chato, Pilar (Febrero 4, 2012). Una protesta indígena reta al gobierno de Panamá y colapsa el país. In eldiariomontanés. Retrieved February 18, 2013

Meléndez, José (Febrero 8, 2012). Cesan las protestas indígenas en Panamá tras pactar con el gobierno. In El país. Retrieved February 18, 2013

[53] reproduces the portions of the 1941 constitution disenfranchising them.

Melo, Arturo D. (Julio 18, 2011). Inmigración, educación y desarrollo. In La estrellas, retrieved February 18, 2013 from

Artículo 23 de Constitución de 1941 (Arnulfo Arias) dijo:  Son de inmigración prohibida: la raza negra cuyo idioma originario no sea el Castellano, la raza amarilla y las razas originarias de la India, el Asia Menor y el Norte de África. Revocado 1946.

Reid, Roberto (October 26, 2008). The 1941 Constitution- The Prohibited Immigrants. In The Silver People Chronicle: this is the story of the West Indian people of Panama. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from .

Reid, Roberto (n.d.) Rapsodia antillana: la historia de la etnia negra de Panamá conocida como los Afro-Antillanos y Westindian.

rapsodiaantillana works too – but why can’t I get at all the same articles?

Reid, Roberto (n.d.) The Silver People Heritage Foundation.

Afro-Panamanians. In World directory of minorities and indigenous peoples. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from

Very interesting.

Domínguez Z., Daniel (January 27, 2008). Lord Panamá, el hombre calipso. In Revista mosaico. Retrieved February 18, 2013

Flores-Villalobos, Joan V. (2012). Race, development and national identity in Panama. Retrieved February 18, 2013

Bourgois, Philippe I. (1989). Ethnicity at work: divided labor on a Central American banana plantation. Johns Hopkins University press. [U of A]

[55] Belize starts off the new year with a bang – 8 murders in 8 days (January 8, 2013). Belizean: Belize news, updates and advisories.

[56] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2007). Crime and development in Central America. Retrieved February 21, 2013. From

[58] Brooks, Andrew (2011). Riches from rags or persistent poverty? A critical discussion of the urban livelihoods of used-clothing traders in Mozambique. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from

Musiani, Francesca (n.d.) Second-hand clothes: community builders? The journey of Western used clothes in Sub-Saharan Africa, between economical and social implications. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from

Baden, Sally and Barber, Catherine (September 2005). The impact of the second-hand clothing trade on developing countries. Oxfam. Accessed February 13, 2013 from

[59] (n.d.) Retrieved February 21, 2013 from provides images of how the patterns on enaguas are made. Somewhere I read it’s a mountain or a snake motif.

[62] Virgen de los Angeles. (2012, November 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:52, March 4, 2013, from

La iconografía clásica muestra a la Virgen de pie, con el Santo Niño en brazos y una flor en la mano derecha.Un pájarito se posa sobre la mano del Niño. ( February 11, 2013)

Idle no more!

The Idle No More movement is awesome and inspirational. Videos of the round dances that have taken place across North America can be found on youtube. To me, they are one loud BASTA! Enough of quietly tolerating a standard of education, employment, housing, and mental and physical health much inferior to those enjoyed by newcomers to the land, whose governments make all the decisions.

Listed here are the informative and captivating explanations of the problems with Bill C-45, its effects on the Indian Act and the consequences for inviolable Treaty promises.


Idle No More Alberta – Tanya Kappo – Introduction

Idle No More Alberta – Tanya Kappo

Idle No More Alberta – Sylvia McAdam

Idle No More Alberta – Dr. Pamela Palmater (Part 1 of 4)

Idle No More Alberta – Dr. Pamela Palmater (Part 2 of 4)

Idle No More Alberta – Dr. Pamela Palmater (Part 3 of 4)

Idle No More Alberta – Dr. Pamela Palmater (Part 4 of 4)

Idle No More Alberta – Janice Makokis (Part 1)

Idle No More Alberta – Janice Makokis (Part 2)