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: http://www.granadacollection.org/Revistas.htm

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.) http://www.temasnicas.net/zapaterartn.pdf.


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: http://www.madc.cr/ ) 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. http://www.indexmundi.com/  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 http://www.hondurastouristoptions.com/tour_etnico.php  Lists indigenous groups.

Cooper, Mary E. Fu and Cooper, Robert C. Padgett (n.d.) Honduras Arts. Retrieved February 19, 2013. http://hondurasarts.com/ceramica-lenca-or-lenca-pottery/  Some artists and art forms.

[3] If more photos are needed, see http://www.pbase.com/meelitamm/copan_village

[4] http://www.manfut.org/ 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 http://www.manfut.org/leon/catedral.html

[6] William Walker (filibuster). (2013, February 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:54, March 3, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Walker_(filibuster)&oldid=539571172

[11] Belli, Gioconda (January 3, 2013). Me duele un país en todo el cuerpo. In Belli’s Blog, retrieved February 19, 2013 from http://www.giocondabelli.org/belliblogjan13/#more-896

[12] Misa Campesina Nicaragüense. (2012, May 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:09, February 20, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Misa_Campesina_Nicarag%C3%BCense&oldid=491596771

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  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/pan001.asp

[15] Tour Copán with David Stuart. Nova. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/maya/copan.html

Copán. (2012, December 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:05, January 16, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cop%C3%A1n&oldid=529112046

Stuart, David (1996). Hieroglyphs and history at Copán. http://peabody2.ad.fas.harvard.edu/copan/text.html

Images http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&sugexp=les%3B&gs_rn=1&gs_ri=hp&cp=5&gs_id=j&xhr=t&q=copan&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.41018144,d.eWU&biw=1280&bih=595&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=twj2UN7CK5Hk8gTr7YGoBw

Copán. (2012, December 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:12, February 19, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cop%C3%A1n&oldid=529112046

Copán images


[17] Hurricanes and tropical storms affecting Belize since 1930 (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2013 from http://consejo.bz/weather/storms.html

[18] Edward Despard. (2012, October 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:56, February 24, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Edward_Despard&oldid=516759337

[22] Firman prórroga para protección de bienes culturales(Noviembre 9, 2005) La prensa. http://archivo.laprensa.com.ni/archivo/2005/noviembre/09/nacionales/nacionales-20051109-15.html

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: http://www.museosdelbancocentral.org/eng/collection-2.html text & some photos.

[27] (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica http://www.museocostarica.go.cr/ Good stuff!)

[28] Mysterious spheres of Costa Rica finally being recognized (May 30, 2012). In The Costa Rica News. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from http://thecostaricanews.com/mysterious-spheres-of-costa-rica-finally-being-recognized/12096

Hoopes, John W. (n.d.) Stone balls of Costa Rica. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from http://web.ku.edu/~hoopes/balls/  Really good!

[33] Panama Canal Zone. (2013, February 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:26, February 18, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Panama_Canal_Zone&oldid=537836601

Memories of the canal zone. Retrieved February 18, 2013.  http://www.zonianlady.com/czmemories.html Anecdotes of kids, especially, raised in CZ.

[34] Ignacio, Joseph O. (n.d.) Garifuna History. Garifuna Heritage Foundation. http://www.garifunaheritagefoundation.org/id6.htm  Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United (Los Angeles)

[35] http://www.belizeanjourneys.com/features/drums/poem.html He’s also a linguist, with an interesting article on Garifuna orthography (spelling): Towards a common Garifuna orthography, at National Garifuna Council of Belize http://ngcbelize.org/content/view/43/172/

[36] Naturalight Team (n.d.) From Hardship to Success: Celebrating the Mennonite’s
50th Anniversary in Belize. Belizean Journeys. http://www.belizeanjourneys.com/features/spanish_lookout/newsletter.html  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. http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/090310_chinesesoftpower__chap8.pdf

Erikson, Daniel P. and Chen, Janice. (n.d.) China, Taiwan, and the battle for Latin America. http://ww.thedialogue.org/PublicationFiles/Erikson-Chen-1%20(2).pdf

[38] See them at Lebeha RAW: Garifuna drumming from Belize. Retrieved February 23, 2013 from  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba1WTzsEhcw

Warasa garifuna drum school. Retrieved February 23, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/user/warasadrumschool

[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 http://www.pueblosindigenaspcn.net/biblioteca/doc_view/40-autonomia-regional-en-nicaragua-una-aproximacion-descriptiva.html

[40] Emergency in Bosawas: the struggle of the Mayangna. German Development Service and Promedia/Esta Semana. Retrieved February 21, 2013 http://vimeo.com/16671932

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 http://impreso.elnuevodiario.com.ni/2007/09/09/nacionales/58483

[42] Helms, Mary (1996). Miskito. In Encyclopedia of world cultures. Retrieved February 20, 2013 from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3458001376.html

Little evidence of kings, she says.

[43] Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (OAS). Retrieved February 20, 2013 from http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/Miskitoeng/part1.htm

[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 http://www.hcostarica.fcs.ucr.ac.cr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=98:inmigrantes-chinos&catid=9:nacionaliberal&Itemid=2

[45] Mitos y realidades de la migración nicaragüense en Costa Rica (2013). Asociación Ticos y Nicas: somos hermanos. Retrieved February 2, 2013 from http://www.ticosynicas.org/?page=migracion

Inmigración nicaragüense en Costa Rica. (2012, 26 de noviembre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:39, febrero 3, 2013 desdehttp://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Inmigraci%C3%B3n_nicarag%C3%BCense_en_Costa_Rica&oldid=61653495.

Racismo en Costa Rica. (2012, 25 de diciembre). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 01:45, febrero 3, 2013 desdehttp://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Racismo_en_Costa_Rica&oldid=62455298.

[46] Indígenas de Costa Rica. (2013, 23 de enero). Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. Fecha de consulta: 02:41, febrero 22, 2013 desde http://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ind%C3%ADgenas_de_Costa_Rica&oldid=63197017.

Costa Rica (1977). Ley indígena No. 6172. Retrieved February 21, 2013 from http://www.iidh.ed.cr/comunidades/diversidades/docs/div_infinteresante/ley%20indigena%20costa%20rica1977.htm

Guevara Berger, Marcos et.al. (2000) Perfil de los pueblos indígenas de Costa Rica. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from http://territorioscentroamericanos.org/redesar/Sociedades%20Rurales/Pueblos%20ind%C3%ADgenas%20de%20Costa%20Rica.pdf

[47] Statement by Mesa Nacional Indígena de Costa Rica, retrieved February 21, 2013 from http://abyayala.nativeweb.org/centam/autonomo.html

Hay 24 reservas indígenas en Costa Rica – autónomas, inalienables, desde 1977. http://www.guiascostarica.com/rios/grupos_indigenas.htm

[48] About the Bri-Bri: http://www.ecoteach.com/admin/spotlight/BriBri.pdf

Idiomas indígenas de Costa Rica: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mapa_de_las_lenguas_aut%C3%B3ctonas_de_Costa_Rica.png

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? http://onehumantribe.com/The_Hidden_People_2.html

[49] See Timoteo Jackson (and others) on youtube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2cOSVaoUuI

Another film involving Timoteo: Silent snow http://www.silentsnow.org/nl/302 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 http://www.iidh.ed.cr/comunidades/diversidades/docs/div_reconocimiento/quince%20duncan.htm

Duncan, Quince (2001) Ensayo contra el silencio. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FsQ9wbNdlIc_PeNbW4_v7ntX_-1ZDM3y3a7CxhSR1ok/edit?pli=1#heading=h.14f9dfec513c

Duncan, Quince (n.d.). Doctrinarian racism. In Quince Duncan. Retrieved February 20, 2013 from http://quinceduncan.wordpress.com/dotrinarian/

http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.ca/2012/12/african-descendants-in-costa-rica-afro.html 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 desdehttp://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ng%C3%A4be-Bugl%C3%A9_(comarca)&oldid=61937007.

(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 http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2012/02/06/actualidad/1328482913_341134.html

Chato, Pilar (Febrero 4, 2012). Una protesta indígena reta al gobierno de Panamá y colapsa el país. In eldiariomontanés. Retrieved February 18, 2013 http://www.eldiariomontanes.es/20120204/mas-actualidad/internacional/panama-internacional-crisis-201202041155.html

Meléndez, José (Febrero 8, 2012). Cesan las protestas indígenas en Panamá tras pactar con el gobierno. In El país. Retrieved February 18, 2013 http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2012/02/08/actualidad/1328736812_527523.html

[53] http://diadelaetnia.homestead.com/41.html 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 http://www.laestrella.com.pa/online/impreso/2011/07/18/inmigracion-educacion-y-desarrollo.asp

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 http://thesilverpeoplechronicle.com/2008/10/1941-constitution-prohibited-immigrants.html .

Reid, Roberto (n.d.) Rapsodia antillana: la historia de la etnia negra de Panamá conocida como los Afro-Antillanos y Westindian. http://rapsodiaantillana.com/


rapsodiaantillana works too – but why can’t I get at all the same articles?

Reid, Roberto (n.d.) The Silver People Heritage Foundation. http://thesilverpeopleheritage.wordpress.com/page/2/

Afro-Panamanians. In World directory of minorities and indigenous peoples. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from http://www.minorityrights.org/4210/panama/afropanamanians.html

Very interesting.

Domínguez Z., Daniel (January 27, 2008). Lord Panamá, el hombre calipso. In Revista mosaico. Retrieved February 18, 2013 http://mosaico.prensa.com/history/2008/01/27/articulos/301.html


Flores-Villalobos, Joan V. (2012). Race, development and national identity in Panama. Retrieved February 18, 2013 https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2012-05-5623/FLORES-VILLALOBOS-THESIS.pdf?sequence=1

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. http://belizean.com/belize-starts-off-new-year-with-a-bang-8-murders-in-8-days-1554/#ixzz2HXOZpOmd

[56] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2007). Crime and development in Central America. Retrieved February 21, 2013. From http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/Central-america-study-en.pdf

[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 http://repositorio.iscte.pt/bitstream/10071/2242/1/CIEA7_37_BROOKS_Riches%20from%20Rags%20or%20Persistent%20Poverty.pdf

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 http://www.csi.ensmp.fr/Perso/Musiani/ECI-Upeace%20article.pdf

Baden, Sally and Barber, Catherine (September 2005). The impact of the second-hand clothing trade on developing countries. Oxfam. Accessed February 13, 2013 from http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/the-impact-of-the-second-hand-clothing-trade-on-developing-countries-112464

[59] Yourpanama.com (n.d.) Retrieved February 21, 2013 from http://www.yourpanama.com/images-panama-national-dress.html 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Virgen_de_los_Angeles&oldid=524606303

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. (http://www.sientepanama.com/posts/3935-virgen-de-panama-sera-una-de-las-estatuas-mas-grandes-del-mundo?nav=next February 11, 2013)


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