Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Whose Fault Is This

Touring Chichen Itza

TRAVEL THERE:  ARE WE ANY DIFFERENT?

Looking back on Mayan society, we might be quick to blame priests or kings, perhaps even warriors or ambassadors. Study history and you will know their sins are legion, but we allow the same sort of characters to control us today, as surely as the Mayans were controlled then.

Parallels I See

Mayans bound the foreheads of infants to achieve a fashionable look and we may wonder why anyone would do that, but don’t we rush out to rearrange anything on our bodies we don’t like?  We may not file our teeth and set jewels in them, but we will pierce the skin under our lip and keep expanding the hole until those around us can see our gum line.  We are perhaps even more greatly ruled by fashion than the Mayans.

Here in the United States we argue about our government, yet we allow the same politicians with their same solutions to dominate our legislating bodies year after year, forcing more and more regulations down our throat. Some of these bureaucrats are hired and appointed by our government, but too many are re-elected and re-elected long after they’ve proven how they fail to keep any promise that they make.

I’m guessing the average Mayan on the street wasn’t so different from me. My sacrificial pyramid is delivered to my house daily on my TV and computer screen and in case that’s not enough, I carry a phone, so I can check in on the mounting atrocities at any time. I listen to what the media tells me, just like the Mayans listened to  their priests and royalty. I hate so much of what I see around me and yet, I feel so powerless to do anything about it.

The Mayans didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s have a society where the rich get richer, the powerful get more powerful and the rest of the population is ground under foot like ashes. And let’s create a religion where thousands upon thousands are murdered in gruesome ceremonies and we can pretend it makes the sun come back.”  Their situation grew out of a series of circumstances. At some point, the tide could have been turned, but they let the opportunity slip away. Their great intellectual capacity and their amazing creativity could have been the foundation of a beautiful utopia, but instead it created a sort of hell.

I pray fervently that we Americans are not making the same sort of mistakes. I hope it is not too late to gain some control over our “priests and royalty.” I hope our religion of self-gratification does not one day demand the egregious sacrifice of our fellow citizens.

Forgive me my doom-saying. Travel is fun and filled with exposure to beautiful things. That’s what I usually focus on. But travel should also expose us to things that make us look at our own lives and think about the way the world is going around us. We should question whether we are doing the right things and promoting the right ideas.

Chichen Itza made me stop and think about my world. I promise to get back to the fun and the beautiful, but I will always try to see something more when I travel than mere entertainment.  One more post about Chichen Itza and I am done.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

On My Way Home

Spanish Colonial Architecture from Bill’s 2011 mission trip to Guatemala.

TRAVEL TALK: SUMMING IT ALL UP

Our return to Dallas was blissfully uneventful.  I’ll spare you the details.  I entertained myself with Michener’s Mexico, but as I read, another part of my brain was sorting out what I’d observed on this short vacation.  My initial impressions required a lot of thought and my arrival in Dallas did not end my meditations.  

Capturing My Travel Thoughts

I’ll start with the relationship between Mexicans and Spaniards. I’m actually amazed at how good their current relations are considering the history of the natives and the invaders.  Spanish architecture is appreciated just as much as the ancient native sites.  There doesn’t seem to be a resentment between the Mexicans and their Spanish heritage.  Spain’s Catholicism has been embraced and there doesn’t seem to be any factions hoping to reignite the worship of gods who demand human sacrifice, which were the Mayans gods.

Granted the Mexicans overthrew Spanish rule during an ugly period that lasted more than a decade, but they got over it.  They didn’t reject Christianity along with the rulers they ousted or tear down Spanish cathedrals.  Though I am sure there was a lot of burning and looting during the war, since its been over, they seem to have developed a great working relationship.  The Mexicans I have observed seem just as proud of the beauties of Spanish colonial architecture as they are of their own pyramids.  Even when I visited Mexico back in the Seventies and Eighties, this seemed to be so.  Most specifically, there is not the tension over monuments and flags we Americans seem to harbor in relation to our own Civil War and slavery.

I Wouldn’t Be Quite as Nice

Personally, as a Christian, I resent the Spanish for the brand of Christianity they forced down the throats of the Mexican Indians.  They made most of them slaves and threatened to kill them if they didn’t convert.  Not that the Europeans did a much better job anywhere else, but the Spanish Conquest of Mexico seems particularly repugnant, in both their hunger for gold and their forcible spread of Catholicism.

My guide on the Chichen Itza excursion pointed out something I’d never quite noticed before.  He showed us a church decorated with serpents.  According to the guide, killing those who were unwilling to convert did not seem to be all that effective with some groups of natives.  So, instead the friars invited the natives to come to the Catholic Church to worship their own snake god.  Though this is more humane than murder, it’s still a trick and I didn’t like to hear of it. 

The Question of Christianity

Had I not mulled over the question of religion for several days, this post might have turned into a rant against the Roman Catholic Church.  They’ve done a lot of things wrong from the inception of formalized religion, but in truth, little about Christianity is attractive to many outsiders today.  In some places, like Central Asia for example, people are turning to Christianity in droves.  They are hungry for the hope it offers, but the concept of hope is alien to Americans who see Christianity the enemy.  They pull verses out of the context of the rest of the Bible and try to hold them up as messages of contempt.  I fear these people miss the point.

Christianity fails any time it gains an official capacity in government. It’s one thing to have a Christian king or president, quite another to have that leader promote his faith with his power.  Lead as a servant, sure.  Wield your power to grow your religion – NO!  Christians have made a lot of mistakes in America.  They have judged others based on a faulty understanding of what they think God wants.  They also took advantage of their majority and wrote laws favorable to themselves.  Now we are paying the price for that power.

During the Byzantine era, the Roman government encouraged its citizens to be Christians.  The emperor was Christian and he promoted Christianity in many ways, including paying bishops.  Many of the subjects of the emperor joined the church, not because they embraced Christianity, but because they wanted access to their ruler.  Others joined the clergy, not out of piety, but because it was a steady paycheck.  The Church may have prospered under these circumstances, but true Christianity has not.  The intentions may have been good, but the results were not.

Conversions which are coerced or forced in any manner are just wrong, period. A conversion to Christianity should be about faith, relationship and hope.  I do blame the Roman Catholic Church for much of the antipathy felt towards Christians.  It would take me thousands of words to discuss the atrocities of history, the distractions of Mariology and the veneration of saints, indulgences, Apolstolic Succession, the inerrancy of the pope, the practice of confession and absolution, transubstantiation, and so many other Catholic traditions which make me crazy.  However, all Christians are human first and we all screw up really badly.  Unfortunately, people judge God based on us, rather than judging us by God’s standards – and we all fall short of those.

As I stood in the plaza of Chichen Itza and considered the awful human sacrifices which were made there, it seemed to me anyone in that city should have been thrilled to learn of the God of the Bible. Instead of a stone god who expected sacrifices, the Spanish could have offered a Creator God, who sacrificed His own Son.  But the message was garbled, threats were made, abuses were committed and today many Mexicans are still caught up in a religion of works, rather than a joyful relationship with the Most High God.

These misconceptions about God, Jesus and the Bible still abound.  God is seen as the big killjoy of the world, because the message is still garbled.  The code of conduct outlined in the Bible is seen as a list of criteria to get into heaven, but that’s a total misrepresentation of Truth.  Shame on the religious people who promote this heresy.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Next week I will leave religion and move on to politics.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Music, Performing Arts, Real Estate Photographry, Shopping, TRAVEL

Rewind to River Bend

River Bend in the Dallas Design district
The new River Bend development in the Dallas Design District. Image from Cultural Counsel

TRAVEL HERE: NEW DESIGN DISTRICT DESTINATION

So, on Friday, I begged you to go to the Dallas Art Fair.  I hope you did.  It certainly loomed large in our weekend.  However, the Fair’s Opening Press Conference was actually Chapter Two. Chapter One played out on Wednesday evening.  Come along and I’ll tell you all about it.

Out of the Loop

The Dallas Art Fair just had its 11th event and somehow I was completely out of the loop for the first 10. I’ve been busy, but I thought I was paying better attention than that.

However, I love me some Dallas and I take the drive over the I-30 Bridge quite frequently, usually headed down to the Dallas Arts District.  My membership in the Dallas Museum of Art has never wavered.  I keep my eye out for Nasher events.  So, I’m not sure how I became so disconnected with an event like the Dallas Art Fair.

Back in the Loop

While I may not be as plugged in as I used to be, as a regional blogger, some organizations do keep me in the loop.  The DMA, the Perot, Preservation Dallas and the Arboretum all have me on speed dial, figuratively speaking.  So, when I got an email from the Cultural Counsel inviting me to an artsy thing in the Design District, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.  I checked my calendar and then invited the hubby along.

Happy on All Counts

As principals  of a real estate photography company, we are always interested in new construction and new developments.  We arrived at River Bend eager to find out exactly what was going on in this new addition to the Dallas Design District.  At first glance it was comparable to other business/retail spaces all over the Metroplex.  The invitation had mentioned “Late Night Gallery Openings, Clare Woods Book Signing, and SOLUNA Performance.”  Galleries we understood, but the rest had to be discovered.

The invitation had not mentioned comestibles at all, but a happy Art Fair associate greeted us and pointed us towards the serving lines.  Gladly the choices were not limited to cheese cubes and bad chardonnay.  Bill tried a local brewery offering from a series of kegs (I’m dieting again, so I was going to wait for the promised mineral water) and then we headed to the buffet line.  Caterers were whipping out chicken and pork street tacos, shrimp tostadas and corn-on-the-cob.  I loved it all, but that probably had a lot to do with the avocado crema.  Bill wasn’t as crazy about the entrees.  He doesn’t do avocado and I’m guessing the other offerings were a poor substitute, but he loved the corn.  I’d recommend the caterers, but I never found out who they were.

Next stop was a door with a large sign advertising Soluna, the musical portion of Dallas’s Art Month, sponsored by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  I was there to get a bottle of Topo Chico Mineral Water.  The space was devoted to the evening’s audio entertainment, an “Icelandic musician” with “signature trolls”.  The music wafted out of the performance space and I could tell it was a little out there for me.  Bill ducked his head in and his main complaint was the overuse of volume.

Continuing down the way we visited a couple of gallery spaces. One only had a few pieces and the other seemed more actively devoted to the consumption of Modelo than the presentation of art.  It was time to head back in the other direction and see what we could find.

On our way back to the center of things, we focused on the ceramic murals of the exterior walls.  A book signing by the murals’ artist was part of the evening’s offerings.  Bill wasn’t fond of the mosaics, but I was more pleasantly effected by the thematic river vistas.  Returning past the trolls, we happened upon some more gallery space and these spaces seemed to be more serious about the art portion of the event.

Our final stop was the 214 space, which serves as a gallery and as the offices for the Dallas Art Fair.  Well-fed and having consumed as much as we could understand concerning the art offerings, we headed home.  The next morning, I’d learn more about what I’d been looking at.

A Few Observations

I would be the first to admit that my taste in art leans toward the figurative and peters out some time shortly after the Impressionists. I find many things to like about contemporary artists who continue the figurative and classical traditions in art, however I have not given up completely on the non-figurative and alternate genres.  I’m still trying, even if I don’t find myself enchanted. So, I’m not a good person to critique the art we saw that evening.

The people watching was spectacular.  I was happy to observe jeans and yoga pants were not the dominating fashion statement.  In fact, the gentlemen, rather than the ladies, were setting the bar.  Socks were so last century for these guys and  all the pants were tight and short.

Winning the award for tightest and shortest were those who wore cuffed pedal pushers. I have no idea of the proper name for these short trousers.  We ladies used to call them capri pants, back in the day.  But trend-setting short pants weren’t all I noticed. The top halves of these guys were also trendy.  Those with longer pants had a sort of khaki/safari vibe to them.  My favorite item on the men was a white straw trilby with a florescent orange band.

The women just did not measure up. They seemed more interested in volume than style, like a pair of harem pants in a loud plaid.  Other versions of comfort were apparent.  The crispest female fashion icon was a sweet young thing in black leather short shorts.  Her long legs were shod in high-heeled platforms with an interesting collection of straps.  Her other clothing and accessories were black and gold.  Her hair was a slick black bob.  Kudos to her for appearing to care whether anyone looked at her or not.  The rest of the women certainly didn’t indicate whether they cared one way or the other.

Wednesday, we’ll head back to Cancun, then Friday I’ll chat about the press conference.  Come back to visit!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Amusing Distractions

TRAVEL THERE: KUDOS TO CANCUN PASSION

Waiting for us beside our tour bus after the tour of Chichen Itza were our hosts from Cancun Passion.  Cancun Passion was the actual touring company we’d booked through Shore Trips, which had been recommended to us by Sandra Rubio at CTC Travel.  I can heartily recommend all of those entities to you. 

I love my friends at CTC Travel.  They are like cheerleaders, urging me on in my efforts to see the world.  You will love working with them as you plan your own travels.  Shore Trips is a great way to book excursions, all over the world.  They offer a wide variety of tours wherever you might go and their website is secure, informative and easy to use.  When it came to visiting Chichen Itza from Cancun, Shore Trips curated the very best choices of tours, in my opinion.  But let me tell you about Cancun Passion.

Service with a Smile

From the moment we connected with Cancun Passion, in the lobby of our hotel, we knew we’d made a good choice.  Their representative spoke perfect English, welcomed us with a hearty smile and ushered us into a pristine vehicle, which still had its new-car smell.  I can’t say that the next hour or so of picking up fellow passengers was all that much fun, but what I liked was that they kept us abreast of what was going on, so we weren’t left wondering if we’d actually ever depart the city of Cancun.

At one point, a guide showed up wearing my hat down the aisle of the bus.  I’d left the hat in the first bus we’d climbed onto, when we changed to the larger vehicle.  I don’t have any idea what difficulties they went through to unite me with my hat, but it showed a level of care which I really appreciated.  I’ve left many hats in many vehicles around the world and this is the first that was ever returned to me.

The light breakfast they served on the way to Chichen Itza was more than adequate.  They had generous baskets overflowing with all kinds of pastries from the sweet to the savory.  They served coffee and orange juice.  I drink neither of those on a regular basis, but I know I am in a very small minority and should I have asked, they could have given me water.  The repast was offered with good cheer and second, thirds and fourths were available if you wanted them. 

At every stop we knew exactly why we were there, what opportunities we had for necessities, shopping or entertainment.  We also knew exactly when we were supposed to be back on the bus.  We always had a convenient parking spot and not once did we have to wait for very long, before everyone was on the bus and we were back on our way.

As we got off the bus at Chichen Itza, they gave us a nice bottle of water, not one of those half bottles some folks give you, but a bottle generous enough to provide hydration throughout the visit.  They also had a big basket of small bbq sandwiches to keep hunger at bay as we visited the site.  The meat-filled roll was delicious.  

I particularly appreciated our tour guide.  He was not a pedantic as our Egyptian guide nor silly like some of the other Mayan guides, who had their guests clapping and yelling at the monuments.  He also did not engage in guessing games to present the pertinent information about the site, like the jerk who showed us around Passau and scolded us because we didn’t already know the information we’d hired him to tell us.  Our guide at Chichen Itza was proud of the accomplishments of his ancestors, but also honest about the horrors they committed.

Boarding the Bus at Chichen Itza

So far, our excursion had been almost perfect.  Perhaps a private tour would have been more accommodating to our personal needs and desires, but it would have cost a whole lot more.  For an affordable group tour, they did a great job.  However, even if I had harbored some minor grudge against them, all would have been forgiven as we approached the bus, hot and tired from our tour of the archaeological site.

Waiting for each guest was a cool wet hand cloth to wipe away the dust and heat of Chichen Itza.  Also, from the chilly interior of an ice chest each guest was offered a beverage.  Water, soda and beer was available.  I can’t remember when a Corona had tasted so good.

We have a buffet and a swim coming, but that can wait until next week.  Join me then for more adventures.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Where Did the Mayans Go?

TRAVEL TALK: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF A CULTURE

Last week I mentioned the Spanish and their influence on Mexico.  I was horrified by the Mayan culture at its apex, but by the time the Spanish arrived, the jungle had reclaimed Chichen Itza.  All that remained was a pile of stones to loot for building materials.  The magnificence of that society had crumbled.

Peeling Back the Jungle

Historians and archaeologists have many speculations on the downfall of the Mayans.  Their glorious city of Chichen Itza was first taken over by the Toltecs and then abandoned for reasons that are still unknown.  How did it happen?  How did such an advanced society merely fade into the jungle?

When you go to Chichen Itza today, you must use your imagination to understand just how astounding it would have been to walk among the monuments in their glory.  The rain and the wind have softened the many carvings on the faces of the buildings and walls.  Mere shadows of pigment hint at the remarkable murals once covering every inch of exposed stone.  How overwhelming it must have been!

Standing in the Plaza

As I stood there trying to imagine the city ripe with the beauty it once displayed and the engineering it had taken to create it, I was distracted by those around me.  Overweight senior citizens from America, sweltering in the sun and wondering why they had ever paid someone to bring them to this overrated steam bath.  Younger and thinner tourists, from around the world, frolicking like they were at a theme park, rather than an archaeological site.  Native Mayans leading tours, some trying to be comedians, while others shared the importance of the site’s history, but all hoping their meager salaries would be supplemented by generous tips from their audience.

And throughout the site, along every pathway, under every tree, were other Mayans.  Their marketplace no longer had a roof, so they huddled, one after another in the shade, to avoid the blasting heat of the sun, selling their wares.  One vendor offered pretty much the same thing as another.  Some focused on wearable souvenirs, while others sold trinkets to decorate your home.  Too many vendors demonstrated a wooden device that made the sound of a jaguar when you blew into it.  We were sick to death of the sound before we left.  More pleasantly, some vendors played melodies on rustic pipes.  Occasionally, you would see a craftsman, carving a beautiful statue with his own hands, while a quick inspection of other souvenirs would reveal a label professing they’d been made by hands in other countries, where the workmen would earn even less than a native craftsman.

How much easier it would have been to join my fellow tourists in their boredom or their freewheeling photography sessions.  I could have spent my time shopping among the tables of the modern day merchants, comparing the prices and workmanship of their offerings.  Why was I mired in gloomy thoughts of horrific bloodletting and an advanced society which was doing almost everything wrong when it came to the good of their citizens?  What was Chichen Izta trying to tell me?

This is not a conundrum I was able to solve in the few hours I walked among its monuments.  Instead I would walk back to the bus with a heavy heart and conflicting thoughts.  My conclusions would have to work themselves out over the coming days.

On to More Amusing Adventures

It was time to board the bus.  A buffet lunch waited for us and then we’d be headed to visit a cenote.  I shook over my pondering and looked forward to a good meal.  The traveler in me made way for the tourist.  Come back next week and we’ll consider lighter subjects.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Just How Civilized Are We?

TRAVEL THERE: MORE IMPRESSIONS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Last week I shared my first impressions of Chichen Itza.  The longer I stayed the darker my thoughts became.  As if in response to the cartwheeling girls in front of the pyramids, I felt the lives of the Mayans deserved to be carefully considered and now, days later, I am still pondering my observations.

Marketplace of the Macabre

As if to emphasize my train of thought, I realized the structure adjacent to the altars was the marketplace.  Beautiful rows of columns raised their heads to the sky, but like the Hypostyle Hall in Karnak, these columns once bore the weight of a heavy roof to protect the items of commerce available in the market.  Like us, Mayan traders traveled to distant lands and brought back beautiful items used for adornment, which were sold next to agricultural products and weapons and cosmetics.  Did the market close during the sacrifices?  I doubt it.  Instead, like a big box store getting ready for Black Friday, they’d hired extra help and filled their shelves with extra merchandise.

After showing us the main plaza and describing the crowds that once filled it during the days of sacrifice, our guide took us to the back of the pyramid where evidence of vandalism was apparent, but the vandalism is not recent.  The Spanish came and disregarded the value of the Mayan ruins by peeling off layers of stone to build their own homes.  The Spanish were not alone in this type of activity.  The beautiful marble which once covered the Egyptian pyramids was used to build later monuments for people who saw little reason to protect the beauty of past engineers.  How is that different from the cartwheeling girls?

Men of Science

At the back of the pyramid, the guide gave us a choice.  We could stay in the plaza to shop and take pictures or visit the observatory.   I was hungry for more, so we followed the guide.  Removed from the plaza, but still in the shadow of the pyramid stood an edifice for tracking the stars.  They performed accurate science in this place, science that measured the routes of the stars and their dance across the sky.  The statistics they calculated have proven to be as accurate as those of our own scientists, with their modern equipment, almost to the second.

The men of science in that day, knew from centuries of observation, the days would get longer, just as surely as they watched them get shorter.  It had always been that way.  Instead of proclaiming proven fact, they used their data to pick the day the sacrifices would be made.  To declare the truth would have reduced their own power, so they ignored what they knew and instead worked hand-in-hand with the politicians, celebrities and leaders to deceive the general public – those standing below the pyramid and those falling lifelessly down the steps.  Does that sound at all familiar to you?  It does to me.

The Pleasure Palace

Just beyond the Observatory, still in sight of the pyramid, is a huge palace, mostly still standing.  You can see intricate lattices of stone decorating the walls of the building, graceful columns in the walled garden and steps winding up to a balcony.  Was the spot chosen for its proximity to the pyramid?  Did they walk to the plaza or watch them from their pleasant garden?  Who were the royals who lived in the shadow of so much death and right next door to a scientific institution that could have used their data to end the grisly performances of religion?

The palace marked the beginning of a residential area.  Their neighbors were priests, other members of royalty, high level political appointees, the families of warriors and of the successful merchants whose businesses filled the market.  Their primitive HOA offered a steam bath and water was delivered daily from the cenote by slaves.  Other slaves brought food from the harvests to feed them.  Their house slaves swept the floors, served their meals, dressed their hair and raised their children.

It was fantastic, this life the powerful had built for themselves.  Certainly, it was also horrific, but did they notice or even care?  What if you had lived in those times, at that place?  Would you have joined the circus that protected your place in society or would you have lived each day in horror, wondering how your lone voice could make a difference against the odds?

If these impressions seem different to you from my usual travelogue, I must agree with you.  They seem different to me, too.  Wherever I travel and whatever I see, I try to put myself in the place of those who lived the life I am observing.  I try to use their experiences to better understand what I observe in my own world. I’ve stood alongside ancient monuments like Stonehenge and the Temple at Karnack.  I’ve visited magnificent cathedrals and breathtaking palaces.  I’ve walked through significant battlegrounds and beautiful gardens.  Never have I been as disturbed by what I saw as I was at Chichen Itza.

I’ve barely touched on the influence of the Spanish in Mexico.  At Chichen Itza all you really see of them is the stones they took away from the pyramid, which is in many ways symbolic of the other things they took away.  What they brought with them was a religion, which would replace the grisly sacrifices of thousands upon thousands with the sacrifice of One, but were they in truth any more benevolent than the murderous priests of Chichen Itza?  Let’s talk about that next week.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Visiting Chichen Itza

The Famous Pyramid of Chichen Itza

TRAVEL THERE: A VERY LONG DAY

Our visit to Chichen Itza was a very long day and there is no way I can cover all of it in one post, so I’ll start with the logistics of the day and we’ll work from there.

Finally Chichen Itza

Though Chichen Itza has always been at the top of my Yucatan Wish List, I didn’t make it either of the other two times we visited the area.  Both of our previous visits have been via cruise ship to the port of Progresso and Chichen Itza is significantly inland from there, so we chose more accessible Mayan sites.

The first time we visited the ruins at Dzibilchaltan and it was a particularly enjoyable shore excursion, complete with lunch and a rodeo.  The archaeological site was interesting and there was a wonderful museum.  Last time we went to Xcampo.  It was a smaller site, but still interesting.  So, we’re getting pretty knowledgeable about the Mayans, but nothing can prepare you for Chichen ItzaIt is both marvelous and horrid.

Up Early  & Out Late

The first thing the guidebook I bought warned me about Chichen Itza was to avoid excursions from Cancun, because so much time is spent in transit.  Well, I appreciated the advice and understood the reasoning, but this was it.  If I didn’t go this time, chances are I might never again get the opportunity.

As we shopped excursions I saw two versions of the trip over and over.  Either you had to be on a bus by 4 AM or you left between 7 and 8.  The problem I discovered however, was that when you took later tours, you were in Chichen Itza during the hottest part of the afternoon, because all the tours stopped for lunch before going to the site.

Then Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel turned me on to ShoreTrips.com and they had a package called the Chichen Itza Plus.  This version of the trip would pick us up between 7 and 8, but we’d go to the site before lunch.  SOLD!

Since we were among the first to be picked up, we had to be in the lobby at 7:10.  When we got there after a quick visit to the breakfast buffet, they were waiting for us.  It was quite the ordeal to get out of town though.  The bus they picked us up in was bigger than the airport transport vans, but not as big as the full-sized tour buses.  We stopped at several hotels in the smaller bus and then traded to the big bus, but even then we had many more stops to make.

All that driving took a long time, but it was interesting to drive around and see other parts of Cancun.  I’d say it was about nine when we finally headed to Cancun.  They served a small breakfast – pastries, coffee and orange juice.  We were glad we’d hit the resort’s buffet.

The drive to Chichen Itza was about an hour and a half.  They stopped off at a shopping opportunity to use the restroom.  I was focused on sightseeing, not shopping, so they didn’t get to sell me anything.  Another short drive took us to the archaeological site – which I’ll go into in detail later.

After a couple of hours at the site, we went back to the shopping opportunity to have a very nice buffet lunch.  In my opinion, they would have gotten a lot more shopping out of me if they’d have let me use the restroom at Chichen Itza and given me shopping time after lunch.

Then, after lunch we made another short drive to Ik Kil Cenote.  I’ll also tell you more about that in a later blog, but it was a great way to end the day.  Well, the day wasn’t quite over.  We still had to drive back to Cancun, which seemed to take forever in the dark.

As we neared Cancun, the lights inside the bus switched on, a recorded version of “Tequila” was played on the loudspeaker and one of our guides had donned a wild get-up that I supposed was intended to be Mayan.  They served shots of tequila to anyone who wanted one, but right then it didn’t even sound good to me.  I was whupped.

It seemed like midnight when we got to the hotel, but I think it was only about 8:30.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our time in Chichen Itza.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

When it comes to travel, food is a just part of the fun, but if you’re talking Gulf Coast, it’s a big part of the fun.  On this trip I’ve had crawfish in Evangeline Country, nibbled on beignets and dined at Brennan’s.  Over the next few days, food moved to the forefront.  I had fried this and broiled that.  I had seafood stuffed with crab and shrimp in all kinds of formats.  I had seafood every time it was on the menu and I loved every bite of it, but there’s more to the Gulf Coast than seafood.  Come see what I mean.

Plantations

Just outside of New Orleans is the River Road.  Along it you’ll find one plantation after another.  In this day and age, slavery is a slippery slope.  Anything and everything associated with it is pretty much off limits.  I get it.  Slavery was bad.  What I don’t get is trying to revise history.  It’s like some people want to erase the first century of America’s existence, including anyone and everyone that owned a slave.

Well, America didn’t invent slavery or even participate in the worst of it.  It’s been a part of every society, virtually from the beginning of time and some slaves did a whole lot more that work in the fields or clean house.  If someone wants to erase slavery from the history books, they’re going to have to get a pretty big eraser.  Name a society from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the Celts – well to anyone you want to name.  They all had slaves, along with practicing a myriad of other sins – discrimination against women, child labor, sex trafficking, cruelty to animals – pretty much anything and everything we complain about ourselves today.  It’s really quite myopic to want discard everything American that is in anyway related to slavery and the Civil War.

If you are one of the eradicators, I don’t recommend the River Road to you.  You’ll be for pulling down the plantations and that would be a shame.  To begin with, the architecture is stunning, but it is also surprising.  While some are luxurious, you’ll most likely be surprised at how small the houses of the plantation owners were and many of them were quite plain.  Hopefully, visiting the River Road will get the Gone with the Wind images out of your mind and put you in touch with what it was really like to live out in the country raising cotton and rice.

Like many things on this trip, I can’t actually remember visiting the River Road plantations with my family, but I do remember recalling them when I visited them in later years.  We also saw The Myrtles, a home famous for its ghosts.  However, I’d be lying to you if I pretended I knew which order we saw them in.

Biloxi

Whatever order we saw the plantations in, Biloxi was our final destination.  While we saw a variety of sites, including taking a ride on the Shrimp Tour Train, we were in Biloxi to see Beauvior.  If slavery is off limits, then I guess Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy is beyond the pale.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just direct you to this post  I wrote back in 2012.  The president has changed, but my politics haven’t.

At Biloxi we stayed on the beach, though I can’t remember our accommodations.  I know about the beach, because Mom’s coiffure, which was pouffy in New Orleans, is decidedly flat in Biloxi.  That indicates time spent in the water and we’ve always enjoyed sea water more than pools.  One of the pictures on my scrapbook page is also seashells in the sand.

Were I to go on this trip today, I’m sure I’d have more than my fair share of food pictures, taken with my phone.  As I write I can see piping hot oyster po’ boys.  I can see baskets filled with fried potatoes, hushpuppies and shrimp, still sizzling from the hot grease.  My mouth is watering from the memory, but we used film back then and it was expensive – so we didn’t take all those food pictures we do now.  In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been considered particularly polite and manners were quite important.

Our Gulf Shores vacation was over.  It was time to take Aunt Edie home and get back to Dallas.  Next week I’ll shift gears a little.  Come see where we’re headed.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Miracle at Mokattum

TRAVEL THERE: HUMBLED BY THEIR HUMILITY

There is a section of Cairo on Mokattum Mountain that is the home of the garbage people.  They are outcasts of polite society.  It’s enough that they are garbage collectors, but they are also Christians, almost 100% of them, and in a predominately Muslim country, that too is a problem.  Yet rarely have I been in a place with as much joy.

Curiosity Got Me There

Sometimes in Egypt it’s hard to discern what is fact and what is just tradition.  Take the Pompey Pillar in Alexandria for instance.  Everybody knows the pillar has nothing at all to do with Pompey, yet his name continues to cling to it.

Mokottum mountain has a lot of traditions attached to it, not just the story of the Coptic pope with the faith of a mustard seed, who got the mountain to move.  The name of the mountain, which means “broken mountain,” is considered proof of …I’m not sure what to call it – event, miracle, legend, tradition.  I’ve also heard a story of a Bible being found floating in the Nile opened to a particular verse which led to  the location of this church – or another church.  The details are fluid.  With so much smoke about Mokattum, I wanted to check out the fire.  

Mokattum Church

The Zabbalene (garbage collector) neighborhood of Cairo is not a garden spot.  It has a very distinctive, unpleasant and fetid odor in the air.  As we rolled through the area the reason became apparent.  Huge piles of garbage sit everywhere, waiting to be sorted through.  Someone opened the garage-like door of a warehouse as we drove by.  Inside were more mounds of garbage, which I presume were more valuable than those which sat in the open air.  At this point in the tour I was still a curious tourist.

We arrived at the entrance of the church and joined a small group being lectured to by someone from the church.  Izzat and Zuzu disappeared for this part.  At first it was the usual tour guide stuff.  This guy started this church this way in this year.  We have this many members. 

The facts buzzed around my head as I followed the guide from one area of the church to another.  I shifted from listening to observing.  This guy was neatly groomed, but it was obvious his outfit came from the piles of garbage.  He could have used a haircut, but you could tell he had a self assurance and self esteem many pampered US teens could benefit from.

I also saw joy.  He loves his church.  He was so excited to share each and every piece of information with us.  He was so proud of the carvings on the wall.  He is in awe of the huge number of people who show up each week to worship.  It’s the largest church in the Middle East.

His joy was not just associated with the church.  His personal testimony is that God loves him, protects him and provides for him.  He is so grateful to be a part of the Body of Christ.

I saw how I must look to him – a privileged tourist.  Imagine how many meals, how much education, how much medical care and other basic needs could be filled with the money Bill and I had spent to be right there at that time.  He had every reason to resent me and my intrusion into his life, but instead he was thrilled we had shown an interest in his community.  He hoped we’d come back and worship with him.  We spoke to him briefly to tell him how much we admired the church and were humbled by his joy.  He spoke to us as an equal, holding his head high and treating us like a fellow brother and sister in Christ.

After the tour, Bill visited the restroom and could not resist taking this picture.  It broke our hearts.  I thought of all our country club mega-churches with our slick-talking celebrity pastors.  I thought of the people who prefer to participate in ministries that will take them on vacation mission trips.  I thought of all the $1-3 donations people thoughtlessly tack onto their grocery bill or pet shop total, and then forget about by the time they get to their car.  I thought of all the money we spend on saving cats and dogs, when these people so desperately need a little saving.  How in the world does that stack up to the needs of those in Mokattum?

Those garbage collectors have it right and I admire them.  I walked away from Mokattum Church a little different than I arrived.  The guide’s love and acceptance of me expanded my own heart a little bit.  I didn’t come home and sell everything that I have, but I’ve got a new understanding of the joy of the Lord and I’m trying to practice it with the same abandon as my brother in Mokattum.

It was on odd place to go for our final tour in Egypt.  Luxury hotels, museum visits, yacht trips and a city of garbage collectors.  Next week, I’ll share our last few hours in Egypt.  I’m writing this particular post on a pretty day in February, knowing it will be posted in August, and that’s a little weird.  Who knows what adventures will follow this blog series!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

More Old Cairo

TRAVEL THERE: WRAPPING UP OUR TOUR

So after Abu Sargus, what else can I tell you?

The Rest of Old Cairo

We visited St. George’s.  It’s nice, but confusing.  There’s all these pictures of St. George and the dragon, but St. George is a Roman soldier martyred because he would not give up his faith.  No dragons in the story, so don’t ask me.  It’s also confusing, because it started out as a Roman Catholic Church, but is now is a convent for Greek Orthodox nuns and old George is a Coptic saint.

We visited the very old Jewish Synagogue which they call the New Synagogue, because the current building was built in the 1890’s and this building is one of three known synagogues on this site.  However, according to tradition, there’s been a synagogue here since ancient times.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that it was built on the site where Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses in the bullrushes.

Hanging Church Depiction of Moses in the Bullrushes

They say stuff like that all the time in Egypt.  St. Catherine’s Cathedral out in the Sinai has THE Burning Bush.  One of the murals at the Hanging Church depicts the Moses in the bullrushes story.  There’s also a mural of the documented story of when faith actually moved a mountain.  You really need to get to Egypt.

 

One of the sad things I learned was that while there was a large Jewish community in Cairo for centuries, it has virtually disappeared.  The Synagogue is a tourist attraction, not a place of worship.  Imagine a congregation, whose place of worship was originally associated with the story of Moses and which was perhaps the place Joseph worshiped when he was in Egypt, no longer having any Jews to worship in it.

Another important miracle recorded in the murals of the Hanging Church is the moving of Mokattum Mountain.  A Muslim Caliph was ready to do away with Christians altogether when a bishop made a deal with him.  If he could get a mountain to move then the Christians were safe.  According to tradition, the bishop had everyone pray and then they had a mass at the foot of Mokattum Mountain at the edge of Cairo.  Lo and behold the mountain jumped up into the air and the Christians were saved.

In recent years a church has been planted in a cavern out there at Mokattum and Bill and I would travel there before the day was over, but for now, I’ll round out my tour.  On the way into the area I saw a shop selling shawls.  I love shawls and capes.  Bill promised we’d stop back by on the way out, probably thinking I would forget all about it – and who knows, I might have – but Zuzu remembered and now I have this beautiful shawl.

The shawl I saw on the way in was not the one I ended up with.  I saw a pretty shawl that I thought would be great for evening wear and the price was minuscule.  When I went back I saw this gorgeous, heavy, reversible number and asked if all the shawls were the same price.  “Yes,” was his answer.  I know value when I see it.  I immediately abandoned the evening style and held on to this one until Bill paid for it.

Come to find out, the shawl I chose is hand woven goats wool.  A tag identified the Egyptian craftsman who made it.  We probably should have paid $100 for it.  I’d be surprised if Bill paid $10.  He’d bargained so mercilessly that he was embarrassed when we walked out of there.  Once again, not understanding Arabic saved me.  I would have told Bill to pay the man his price and quit bargaining.

Next week we’ll move on to Mokattum Mountain, but first, enjoy these beautiful photos.