Mexico City

April 1976

We arrived back in Guatemala City from Antigua in the early afternoon, (see Volcán Agua), and reserved seats on the Tica Bus to Mexico City departure of the next day.  That evening we went to a nearby pizzeria and early to bed; there was no water and the electricity supply was at best, intermittent.

At about 23:00, I woke in a sweat, with an excruciating pain in my bowels.  In the dark, I scuttled to the communal toilet, to which most of the other guests seemed to have preceded me.  With no water supply and unable to flush the toilet, the stench was diabolical; it was a trip to the toilet that was to repeat itself many more times that night and the next morning.

What to do?   We had already paid for the tickets to Mexico City on a bus with no toilet for a 1,400 km journey.  If my gut spasms persisted, could I hold out until each of the next scheduled stops, on average about every two hours.  I decided to go for it.

And thankfully I made it without undue embarrassment… but only just.  As soon as we arrived in Mexico City, I went to the first pharmacy that I encountered  and sought relief.  The pharmacist listened to my symptoms and gave me some pills that he was confident would eliminate the problem.  They certainly worked, almost instantly; I was totally blocked up for most of the next two weeks.

We found a room in a clean and inexpensive hotel, close to the two great plazas of the city: the Alameda and the Zócolo.  It was a perfect location in the historic heart of the city.

Nearby was the Alameda, a large central city park, with a complex layout of paths, statues and fountains.  Originally it was the Aztec marketplace.  At the eastern end of the park is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an opulent building dedicated to the performing arts – music, dance, theater and opera, and exhibitions of art and photography.

The Alameda (photo from internet)
The Palacio de Bellas Artes (photo from internet)

To the east of the Alameda is the Zócolo, known as the Plaza de la Constitutión, a massive square measuring about 250 m by 250 m.  On one side is the Cathedral, on another the Palacio Nacional and on the other two sides various Federal Buildings.  In the centre of the plaza there is an enormous flag pole.

The Zocoló (photo from internet)

We went to the Palacio Nacional to see the murals painted by Diego Rivera.  Now I am not renowned for my enthusiasm for things artistic, but a friend had told me that I would find a visit to have been worthwhile.  I was not disappointed.  The murals were most impressive, covering the history of Mexico from the pre-colonial era, through the Spanish conquest and the modern-day rise of the working class.  I felt very small looking up at them from the stairs and the adjacent corridors.

Diego Rivera mural in the Palacio Nacional
Murals of Diego Rivera in the Palacio Nacional (photo from internet)

That evening we went to the Frontón México, an art-deco building that was the home of Jai Alai in Mexico City.  It is a few minutes walk to the west of the Alameda.

Jai Alai is based on a similar game originating from the Vasco region of north-eastern Spain.  It is played on a long rectangular court with walls on three sides and a high ceiling, similar to an elongated squash court, with one wall removed and glass screening to protect the audience.

The ball is rock-hard and is caught and slung against the end wall with a hand-held device called a cesta.  It is renowned for being the fastest ball sport.

Most of the crowd were there to gamble and as a game progressed, the odds were constantly changing.  The book-takers ran up and down the steps taking bets and issuing receipts.  The noise level was impressive and I entered the fray, with my small bank of pesos that I was prepared to lose as part of the experience.  I survived for a couple of hours, sometimes up, at other times down, until it was gone.  It was a fun night.

The Frontón México as it is today (photo from internet)

On the way back to our hotel, we went to the Plaza Garibaldi, a short walk to the north of the Alameda.  The Plaza Garibaldi was known for its mariachi bands and we were not disappointed, for there were at least a dozen of them.  Each one consisted of violins, trumpets and different forms of guitars, some with a harp, at times each musician taking turns to sing, at other times singing as a group.

A typical mariachi group in the Plaza Garibaldi

And here you can hear how a mariachi group sounds…

It was with the sound of a dozen mariachi bands reverberating in our ears, that we wandered back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning.

And my bowels slept serenely that night…





Analemmatic Sundial

Since I moved to Cape Town over two years ago, I have walked through Green Point Park almost every day.  Many of the regular park staff greet me with a smile and a welcome comment; I always feel very much at home in the park.  And it is with keen interest that I observe the daily progress of the bird-life, the building of their nests and the hatching of their young, and the flowering of the plethora of Cape plants.  I am blessed with the time to witness the annual progress of nature.

In the middle of one of the open grass areas of the park, there is a semi-circle of small pillars.  I had sometimes wondered what they represented, but my curiosity was not great enough to deviate me from my path: until recently.


I found that there were 14 small pillars in a semi-circle, numbered from 6 to 19, and at right angles, two elliptical shapes marked with the months of the year.



I was still none the wiser until I read the explanation on the sign, and then all was revealed.


It was a normal Cape sunny day and I decided to test the sundial.  Following the instructions, I stood on the mark at July, stretched up my arms, noted the time, made the necessary adjustment as per the instructions and compared it to the time in my phone.  The latter was one minute slow!

Isn’t nature wonderful?…  🙂


April 1976

At the time, we never considered flying to Flores, the nearest airport to Tikal: we did not even know that there was an airport there, but if we had known, we would still have gone by bus.  So, A-M, Joe and I bought one-way tickets for the local bus, leaving late that evening.

It was very dark on the way to the depot. Few street lights in the city were functioning, but it was easy to find the bus at the depot: it was the only one with lights switched on and motor coughing and spluttering, ready to go.  It was an ancient bus that had seen better days: it was probably older than we were.  And as it turned out, we were the last passengers to arrive.

We entered the bus through the rear door and immediately the strong smell of stale sweat and unwashed clothes hit us.   We were the only ‘foreign’ passengers and we had to search for the three remaining dispersed seats.  There was no spare leg-room between the rows of seats and I felt like a giant when compared to the local Indian population.  The door was soon closed and with a roar, we departed.

Within a short time, the passengers that had been awake, were fast asleep.  Somewhere ahead of me A-M and Joe may have also been asleep.  I had a little Indian guy cuddled up to my shoulder.  He stayed there for most of the journey,  I really did not mind.

We were soon on a second or third-class road, sometimes descending, at others ascending, tossing, turning and bumping from pothole to pothole.  Twice our progress abruptly ceased.  Each time I got out with some others to watch the driver, buried in the engine, fiddling, swearing, adjusting, with only the light of a torch, until the motor finally exploded into life, to a round of applause from the appreciative audience.

At intervals through the night the bus stopped to drop off passengers or to pick up others. It was shortly after dawn when we arrived in Flores.  When I left the bus, I was no longer aware of human body smells.  How rapidly we can adjust to our environment.

Guatemala map
Map of Guatemala, with Flores about 480 km to the NNE of Guatemala City

We had no trouble in finding an inexpensive, but clean and comfortable hotel, with a view over the lake.  There appeared to be few, if any, tourists in Flores, most probably scared off by the earthquakes.  Joe headed off to find a neighbouring hostel that had been recommended to him, and we agreed to meet later that evening.

And when we did, Joe was enthusiastic about a bar that he had passed early that day.  We went in, and after our eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and we had settled down to our cold beers, the conservation went something like this…

‘Did you actually come here earlier today, Joe?’

‘Nope, I thought that I would wait for you two’

‘Joe, have you noticed anything different about the women?’

‘Well, there seem to be a lot of single women, and they are not wearing much’.

‘What about those doors along that corridor, with the couple just emerging?

‘No, I had not noticed’.

‘And the couple that have just gone down the corridor?  Joe, we are in a brothel’, at which point A-M started to laugh, and the spell was broken.

We eventually finished out beers and left.  No doubt A-M will still be recounting the story of that evening when we took her to a bordello.  And I suspect that Joe returned after we left him at his hostel.

Flores (photo from internet)

The next day we caught a local bus to the ruins of Tikal, about 65 km to the NW of Flores.  The Mayan city flourished during the era from 200-900 AD but was inexplicably abandoned over a relatively short time.  It became overgrown by the jungle and it was not until the mid-1800s that it was ‘rediscovered’, although the local Indian tribes were aware of its existence.

When we were there, it was only partly uncovered, and there were numerous mounds, smothered in vegetation, that once restored, would one day reveal their form and purpose.  In its day, Tikal encompassed a large area, connected by causeways.

The temples were massive, and we climbed two of them, Temples I and II.  They were steep, and the steps were irregular and quite worn, but the view from the top over the jungle was breath-taking.  And on the way up, monkeys were screeching at us from neighbouring trees.  It was sobering to remember that countless of human sacrifices were performed on those elevated altars.

Temple I (photo from internet)
Temple II (photo from internet)
Temple V (photo from internet)

We were travelling light and decided to spend the night in Tikal, sleeping in hammocks in a little enclosure in the jungle.  The shelter was circular, with a thick waterproof roof of fronds, open on all sides, with a waist-high wall.  There was no light, so when the sun set, we climbed into our hammocks.

Initially, I fell asleep, but was often awoken by the constant clamour of the jungle.  It was another world out there.  At one time there was a furious galloping through our clearing.  The next day we were told that it would have been a tapir.

A tapir with the mottled camouflage of the young (photo from internet)

When we returned to Flores, we decided to fly back to Guatemala City.  The Flores airport was nearby, and none of us relished another long and uncomfortable bus journey.

The next day, Joe continued on his way north and we headed off to Antigua.  You can read more of our journey here at Volcán Agua.