Saturday, May 19, 2007

Technical Difficulties

It has been brought to the editor's attention that the slideshow link in the previous post is not working for some and maybe all viewers. We regret the inconvenience. If you're not seeing any pictures on the slideshow link, perhaps you would like to just go to a page where you can click on each picture? Probably not. Better luck next time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


A few years ago, they came out with one of those studies that they do apparently for the sole purpose of landing a crazy story in the newspaper. Scientists discovered that people's self-assessment of how good they are at a given task is inversely related to how good they are at the task. I.e., enthusiastic amateurs who know just enough to be dangerous think they are pretty darn good at stuff; whereas near-masters have a deep understanding of just how far they are from true mastery. I loved that study.

From a world of less rigorously tested yet more certain knowledge, it's easy to get bored looking at other people's vacation photos.

Flying in the face of these two important lessons: I think I take more interesting vacation pictures than a lot of people. And Flickr just released a significantly improved version of their slideshow viewer. So if you've got 30 seconds to kill please breeze throught 18 pictures from Mexico.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Holla Staff Lavished with Further Awards

Guatemalans love recreational sports leagues. I actually don't have any evidence to support that claim, but it sounds better than the statement I can support: Guatemalans who play recreational sports leagues get really into them. Your correspondent is now proud owner of a medal, awarded by the appropriate sanctioned authorities. The obverse of this medal reads, in its entirety: "Gatorade" with the little Gatorade lightning-bolt logo. The reverse reads, in part, "Pollo Rey" with a little picture of a chicken wearing a crown; then, smaller, "Champions, Group C." I earned this prize for playing sporadically on 7-man soccer team, which won the title for the entry-level division.

I guess I haven't really played organized sports as an adult in the U.S. But most leagues I'm aware of might involve everyone chipping in for a team t-shirt, and the teams might win a chintzy trophy at the end of the season. In this, and several other Guatemalan leagues I'm aware of, the rec league is like a full-blown pretend version of the real thing. There are full teams of referees (of questionable quality), medals for the winners (?!), games happen during prime evening and weekend hours, and most unusual of all, everyone has to buy full-on matching uniforms. For example, a friend joined up with the Embassy-associated softball team and was not allowed to play at first because he didn't have full-on sliding pants. The uniforms that the softball team have to invest in are ridiculous Triple-A caliber getups with matching socks and everything.

The soccer league your correspondent (sporadically) participated in was particularly funny because you need to buy a full uniform, but apparently nobody could think of a uniform that didn't already exist. Or maybe everyone just wanted to play out their fantasies of being on a famous international soccer team. As a result, all the teams in the league had uniforms that were direct copies of Real Madrid, Juventus, or in one case, the English national side, with the little St. George's Cross and everything. In one particularly storied evening, your correspondent's team, decked out like a little 7-man version of FC Barcelona in their blinding yellow alternate kit. We faced off against our hated rivals, a less talented 7-man version of FC Barcelona in their blinding yellow alternate kit. After a full (short) half of very confusing football, someone pulled out seven of those pull-over tank top things that you use to designate the second team at a practice where everyone is normally on the same team and therefore wearing the same uniform on purpose. Despite an especially hard-fought game, with the blinding yellow unis of our oppenents topped with hunter-safety blaze-orange tanks, the only injuries were to the eyes of unfortunate spectators. And the lesson (hopefully) learned is to not pick the uniform of last year's European Champions for your team kit.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Of Acatenango

There are three major volcanos (or four, really) visible from Guatemala City on a clear day: Agua, Pacaya, and Fuego/Acatenango (twin peaks, one active volcano and one dormant volcano, connected by a small saddle). As previously reported, your faithful correspondent has summited the first two of these. The latter was conquered this past weekend.

It was a fairly early start, a steep climb, cold weather, and some nice scenery. The best part was the opportunity to camp at the (almost) top of the mountain, doing the last half hour of climbing at dawn to watch sunrise from the summit of dormant Acatenango. From there, one could look down at the smoldering cone of active Fuego, poking out of the early-morning clouds. Of course, the staff photographer didn't get any shots of it; he brough only the cheap back-up camera due to concerns about robbery of the expensive primary camera, which back-up camera, of course, failed prior to reaching the top.

Given reports of theft on the trail, we hired a capable guide at the tiny town at the bottom of the hill -- as with most climbing expeditions in Guatemala, the primary purpose of the guide is to carry a machete and scare off possible theives. He hiked to the top in his loafers, apparently bringing nothing more than a little white bread and an orange to eat. Each time we pulled out snacks or dinner, we offered him some, which he gratefully accepted, and then as near as we can tell, squirreled away in his pack to give his family when we got back to the bottom, content to mostly just eat white bread. Exactly why we were carrying all this food to the top of the mountain for him didn't quite make sense, but it was probably a better workout that way.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Sometimes better things come in bigger packages. Guatemala City is estimated to have a population around 2 or 3 million people. But it punches below its weight compared to smaller cities culturally, culinarily, architecturally, &c. While it is the firm belief of the Holla that the rest of Guatemala more than makes up for the capital's shortcomings, the city's failings are not uncommon among developing-world metropolies. Millions of rural immigrant laborers moving to the city don't necessarily make up a market for great pad thai. Except maybe in Bangkok.

In any case, on our recent trip to Mexico City, I wasn't sure if we would find a city of 20 million people subsisting on beans. Any fears were misplaced. While Guatemala is a fantastic place to visit if you have some time to get out into the sticks, Mexico City (or "the D.F." as those in the know call it) is a fantastic location for a long weekend visit. It has varied neighborhoods, amazing museums, a rich street life, and an actual middle class and the attendant restaurants, bars and cafés. Since we explored only the center of the city and a few of the nicer outlying neighborhoods, we can't rule out the possibility that there are still 18 million people outside the center subsisting on beans, but there is a Guatemala City-sized core that ranks alongside Buenos Aires at the top of the Latin American city list.

Of course no city of 20 million people is without its attendant difficulties. On wour way into the city from the airport, traffic delays were signifcant. The airport taxis have a central-dispatch system, and when the dispatcher assigned us, and our city-center destination, to the cabbie, he complained loudly that it would take him several days to get there and back. Each time the traffic report came on the radio, he cranked the volume to full blast, possibly to glean any route-finding details possible, but it seemed to be more to make a point that we were idiots to have reserved a hotel downtown. The radio reported that there was a quinceañera parade making its way to the central square, jamming traffic all over. A quinceañera is a girl who is turning 15, which is a huge deal in Latin American cultures - beyond a huge deal. The same way Americans spend ridiculous sums of money on weddings, latinos do the same for 15th birthday parties. We asked the driver who was having a quinceañera parade big enough to shut down most of the city. "Everyone," he replied. We later saw open-top double decker buses packed to bursting with girls in prom dresses being carted into the main square for whatever the event was.

Fortunately, traffic was aviodable because the city has a clean, efficient, and -- as far as our experience went -- safe, Metro. It even provided entertainment, of a sort. On many trains, people hawk their wares on the train cars, always waiting until the second the doors close to start and stopping the second they open again, giving the impression that the law didn't smile on their activities. Nonetheless, we had one ride where over the course of a few stops we had someone trying to sell sharpie markers (two for a dollar!), then someone trying to sell a small radio (this amazing small radio comes with its own earphones!), then someone selling compact discs (with a little backpack sound system blasting), and finally DVDs (actually holding a portable DVD player over her head as she made her way up the train car to demonstrate the quality videos on offer).

Among the tourist-attractions of note, the pyramids at Teotihuacán are magnificent, and very different from the Mayan ruins in Chiapas and Guatemala -- although they do share the crowds and junk peddlers of Mexico's Mayan ruins. The museum of anthropology is an amazing collection in a world-class facility. We overheard one guide lecturing his Hungarian charges about how certain Aztec artifacts were damaged in the "American Invasion." Which of course each side will have a different view of the war, but he went on to emphasize for his Magyar guests: "You are Hungarian. Germany invaded Hungary. The same way, the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1847." Deciding discretion in correcting flagrantly off-base analogies the better part of valor, your correspondent wandered to another of the myriad displays rather than pursue the issue. On the other side of the American-baiting coin were Diego Rivera's masterpiece murals in the public buildings of the city. They were almost uniformly magnificent, although I don't remember from Art History 102 the one with the happy laborers gleefully crushing capitalist skulls with hammers and chopping them up with scythes. Maybe better to stick with Siquieros.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Nothing to See Here

We haven't published anything in a while. We ran off to Mexico. But we're back, and will tell you all about it soon.