Monday, February 25, 2008

Antigua Market II

Commerce in action.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Antigua Market I

Every trip to a developing country has to include a trip to the local market to see how the natives buy and sell fruits and screwdrivers and toilet paper in a much more authentic way than we do. Over the next few days, some photos of how they do it in Antigua, Guatemala.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Quetzalteca Especial

Oh, hey! We're back to Guatemala for the foreseeable future.

Returned pocket-size empties of Quetzalteca Especial liquor at the Antigua market.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mardi Gras: Down on the Bayou

The other activity we undertook in the greater Cut Off metro area was not actually Mardi Gras-related, but definitely Louisana- related. We took a swamp tour on an airboat. The swamp was actually beautiful, filled with birds and Spanish Moss hanging from every tree branch. Our host, Arthur, reports that we were there at the worst time of year, and that soon flowers will bloom and gators will come out of hibernation.

We did manage to see a few alligators, although Arthur (above) was unable to catch one for our wrassling enjoyment (not for lack of effort). We also saw approximately one million nutras, which are basically giant swamp rats. They are so plentiful that apparently nutra season is quite lucrative due to the bounty for each nutra killed. This despite the fact that the nutra was maybe the only animal, bird, or plant in the swamp about which Arthur did not declare, "Them's good eatin'."

Pictured above is the airboat, which goes really fast, and is very loud, requiring the bright yellow ear protectors as pictured below. Other than going fast, and doing big fishtailing turns, which are pretty darn cool, the best part of the air boat is it's ability to hop over levee embankments and go zipping over grassy patches of swamp. We only wish that we lived on a river and could commute by airboat each day, although we might not go for the camouflage coveralls for everyday use.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mardi Gras: Thibodaux Parade People

So as mentioned a few days ago, your correspondents were privileged to ride on "Uncle Pott's Band Wagon," a float in the Thibodaux, Louisiana Mardi Gras festivities. We took along a bunch of the snazzy (but still cheap plastic) necklaces we had caught in New Orleans, along with several bags of store-bought necklaces. At Mardi Gras, the "value" of a worthless plastic necklace is determined by the size of the beads, the length of the necklace, and if it features any bonus crazy shaped beads other than plain spheres. We had plenty of necklaces that were essentially the most worthless of the worthless.

This did not deter a large section of the crowd from finding them quite desirable. Obviously, the fun of the event is the game of catching goodies thrown by random strangers, not the true value of the items caught. Thus, the game appeals highly to children, who get very excited about catching even small prizes. Of course, many very small kids had learned to wave their arms to beg for a necklace, then cowered in fear if one was actually thrown their way.

This also did not stop a large number of grown-ups from scooping up a ridiculous amount of the necklaces and storing them in big trash bags or the like. To what end? Perhaps they were going to be riding on their own float later in the day and needed stuff to throw. Or maybe they have a wall of their garage lined with trash bags of Mardi Gras treasures dating back for decades.

We tried to be judicious in only tossing our special beads sporadically, so they would last the duration of the parade. Your correspondent took an attitude that he would not reward particularly obnoxious behavior; therefore kids who screamed for beads like they were having a tantrum got cheap beads. Older people who made gestures or remarks indicating a sense of entitlement got skipped entirely. People who seemed to be having an awesome time regardless got the best prizes. The biggest prize went to a young kindred spirit who appeared to be trying to take artistic street-photography pictures of the floats. The second biggest prize went to some young entrepreneur in front of a bar who ran alongside the float and traded me three jell-o shots for some beads. Hooray for capitalism!

Unfortunately, we were not judicious enough in our throwing. We were running low on fancy beads as we came into the African-American part of town, which resulted in no small amount of guilt on my part that we would look like racists, but I just didn't have any more cool stuff to throw. And Uncle Pott's generator blew out and the music stopped, and we wound up kind of a sad float playing no music and throwing no fancy beads. Pott was pretty disappointed about the generator situation, but there was nothing he could do. He is a showman, but his vocal cords have some miles on them, and he can't sing unamplified. The more we didn't throw cool stuff, the more people gave us indignant looks and told us not to waste our time throwing them junk. Editorial discretion prevents us from publishing more details here (nothing like mild racial tension to set the nerves on end), but the point is: I might do things differently, bead-conservation wise, were I invited for a return engagement on Uncle Pott's Band Wagon.

In any case, it was not too long after running out of fancy beads that your correspondent pretty much ran out of beads entirely, or at least let his crew-mates throw the last few beads and took pictures of the crowd in the last stretch of the parade. It's an interesting slice of humanity, including cute kids and pickups of drunk college kids and older folks who have probably been watching the Thibodaux Mardi Gras parade from their front lawns since dirt. Check out a slideshow here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mardi Gras: New Orleans Parade People

The Saturday before Mardi Gras (sometimes called "Samedi Gras") has its own parades, as seen in a previous entry. The schedule basically goes:

1:00 - 4:00: Parade
4:00 - 7:00: Sit around holding your place on the parade route
7:00 - 10:00: Parade

The staff photographer, meanwhile, has always been interested in taking more pictures of people. But it is hard to get up the courage to ask permission, particularly when in Guatemala and the request could be interpreted as a condescending tourist equivalent of "you sure do look funny." And taking portraits without permission opens a whole ethical can of worms that the staff photographer hasn't really come to terms with. In any case, the inter-parade break presented the perfect practice opportunity: A slightly inebriated staff photographer asking happy and also slightly inebriated fellow revelers if they would mind having their picture taken. It's a baby step, but still a step. Being Mardi Gras, the results are mostly pictures of ordinary people wearing funny hats. Nevertheless, we've assembled 15 of the better results for your viewing pleasure. Check out the slideshow here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mardi Gras: Thibodaux and Golden Meadow

We may not have been riding with Kevin Costner or the Doobie Brothers on the Endymion parade, but we did get to experience the other side of the coin in beautful Cut Off, Louisiana. The Holla staff was escorted to Louisiana by a Native Guide, who comes from a family of entertainers and ne'er-do-wells in the bayous southwest of the Big Easy. Her grandfather is local institution Pott Folse (pictured below), who has his own float in a local parade; with various other relations playing in the backing band, he delights the crowd with Cajun-flavored songs and a few bawdy jokes.

Our Native Guide managed to get us highly prized spots on Pott's Band Wagon for the Sunday parade in Thibodaux, LA. We scooped up the pounds of plastic trinkets we had caught in New Orleans the previous day, purchased many small suitcases of additional plastic necklaces, and got ready to roll. It was fantastic. The crowd loves Pott, but maybe not quite as much as they love plastic trinkets. The plastic trinkets, in turn, were not quite as popular as the stuffed animals tossed out by more experienced companions on our float.

The reactions of various members of the trinket-chasing crowd could serve as the foundation for a graduate dissertation in game theory and/or sociology. They will be explored in further detail (but not at dissertation length, we assure you) in this space shortly. The picture at the top of this entry is from a parade we watched that evening in Golden Meadow, also near our Native Guide's ancestral homeland, and was added as a teasing splash of color. We sadly did not get to/have to wear such get-ups while throwing beads. Immediately above, The Lovely Katherine demonstrates a more measured bead-throwing style.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mardi Gras: New Orleans Parade

Because we really, honestly have a bunch of fun pictures of Guatemala to get to, we shall endeavor to bang out these pictures of Mardi Gras in a week or so, and then not go anywhere else cool for a while.

The big attraction for many Mardi Gras attendees are the parades. For the unaware, there are a couple weeks worth of parades leading up to Fat Tuesday itself, with the biggest parades in New Orleans. We went to the Tucks and Endymion parades on Saturday and had a bunch of rich guys in masks throw baubles at us, and to see other parade attractions like crazy costumes (as below) and homeless guys carrying decorative propane-torch devices (not pictured, but real).

Any number of sane (though intoxicated) people claw and scratch to get the thrown baubles -- mostly plastic bead necklaces -- and upon obtaining them, wear them briefly and then have to figure out what to do with ten pounds of plastic crap. In any case, the fun is in the chase, however foolish the prize. Women famously reveal a brief glimpse of their breasts in exchange for the nicer (and of course that term is relative) necklaces, and in this age of easy digital photography, I would guess that some number of women expose themselves more famously than they might desire under less intoxicated circumstances.

For the record, the theme of the Endymion parade was "A Salute to Rudyard Kipling," thus the British Colonial Dude float, as in the first picture above. As for answers as to why anyone decided it was time for a salute to Rudyard Kipling, our crack investigative squad came back empty-handed.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Happy Mardi Gras!

Well, it's time for yet another detour from the Guate-centric raison d'etre for this publication. We spent a quick weekend down in Louisiana for the days leading up to Mardi Gras. The staff photographer had a few drinks which didn't help with his already-loose shutter finger. More to come...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Guatemala City III

One of a thousand street stalls in Guate selling completely legitimate, fully-copyright-compliant movies on DVD, or hundreds of hit songs in the popular RIAA-standard .mp3 format on a single CD.