Quotes: Dumbing Down, Fast as We Can


It’s getting harder to argue this point, but to CS&W readers outside the United States, when the American cable network Fox News refers to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as “3 Mexican Countries,” there are lots of us who realize that that is a mistake. Honest.


The second hurricane of 2018 will come calling across Georgia today. In the run-up, the trees are loud with wind, and clouds barrel in fast and low. It looks a lot like what started out innocently as a long weekend at pretty little Lake Atitlan in Guatemala a few years back (from ATL, this is a shorter flight than to SFO). By the time it was over we’d fled a tropical storm back to the capital, then had to evacuate to El Salvador after a volcanic eruption.

Tropical Storm Agatha crept up from behind, from the Pacific, while nobody was looking, and walloped Guatemala. This bridge collapsed a few hours after we crossed, trapping people on the wrong side of it for several days.

Streets flooded.

This post describes our evacuation from the lake back to Guatemala City, and here is a post titled Mostly Calamity, As It Turns Out, dated May 29, 2010, with more photos.

Meanwhile, and also unknown to us, it turns out that Volcan de Picaya erupted hours after we arrived on a Thursday closing the Guatemala City airport due to volcanic ash until the following Tuesday. Flights backed up and our first shot at leaving wasn’t for several days, so we arranged transportation to El Salvador and managed to fly home just three days late.

Here is wet volcanic ash and storm damage at a construction site adjacent to the hotel in Guatemala City.

It was supposed to be just a quiet weekend getaway at the lake.


Weekend Reading

It often happens here in Appalachia that our dreams turn to spring and our weather turns torrential, and this weekend we are told to expect more than an inch of rain. We do not, however, anticipate rain like in the photo. In that event, our few short days in Guatemala were attacked first by a volcanic eruption that stranded us there for a few missed days of work (the volcano that ate our homework) and then by a tropical storm off the west coast that flooded our little town and required a careful evacuation to Guatemala City.

None of that is on tap for this weekend here. There should be ample time for staying out of the rain with a few good reads.

I have been instantly engaged by this week’s new arrival in hardback, No Friends But the Mountains by Judith Matloff. It looks like a book to be enjoyed slowly, maybe a chapter at a time across a few weeks. Ms. Matloff describes conflict at altitude, the irascible nature of mountain folk in Albania, Central America, the Himalaya and Caucasus regions. In her introduction, Ms. Matloff hits on something I’ve always thought about the Assad Alawites’ peculiar version of Islam up in the Latakia Mountains, when she writes, “Religion imposed by colonial outsiders fails to take firm root, or is incorporated into indigenous beliefs.” My impression is that the Alawites have been up in those hills so long, the outsiders were Arabs bringing the original Islam.

Shorter form, try The Edge of the Petri Dish by Charles Mann at thebreakthrough.org, subtitled “Can Humankind Avoid Its Biological Destiny?” Mann is known for 1491, a survey of the Western Hemisphere world awaiting the Europeans.

I mostly agree with Damir Marusic’s The Dangers of Democratic Determinism at The American Interest (There is a paywall after one article per month). He tries to explain Eastern Europeans’ reluctance to admit refugees, saying “the events of 1989 are best understood not as a casting off of the false god of communism and an embrace of universally true western values” (as Western Europeans and Americans understood them) but rather as “emancipation from crumbling empires.” The last thing you want to do when you get your nation back, Marusic suggests, is dilute it right away with foreigners.

At thebaffler.com, Yasha Levine asks, “Why are internet companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?” in an article titled Surveillance Valley.

And one more: As we peek through our fingers at Cape Town to see what will happen next, consider The African Anthropocene by Gabrielle Hecht at Aeon.com, subtitled “The Anthropocene feels different depending on where you are – too often, the ‘we’ of the world is white and Western.”

Have a lovely weekend. I leave you for now with a couple more photos from that weekend in Guatemala.

Wednesday HDRs – Animals

Sometimes HDR processing works and sometimes it doesn’t seem right for the subject matter. Animals, I’ve found, are hit or miss. Here are eight that made the grade, starting with one of the tree climbing lions in Ishasha, Uganda. That photo was published in Afar Magazine. The grasshopper lives in South Africa, the parrots in Antigua, Guatemala, the silverback mountain gorilla in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda, the ram with a view in the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, the hippo family along the Kazinga Channel in Uganda, the beasts of burden at the Mercado in Addia Ababa, Ethiopia, the horses in rural Finland, and the colobus monkey was just hanging out in a tree by the road in rural Uganda. All the photos link to larger versions in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

As in most cases, all of these were tonemapped in Photomatix and finished in various versions of Photoshop with various iterations of Nik software.

One other thing: EarthPhotos.com is looking a little strange as we continue to wrestle it into a fresher new format that will compliment CS&W. Thanks for bearing with us.










Guatemala Shoeshine – Wednesday HDR


This week's photo is from a May, 2010 visit to Guatemala. This shoe shine man sits on the main square in Antigua, Guatemala. Click the photo for a much bigger version.

We intended a peaceful weekend at Lake Atitlan, but a few hours after our arrival Volcan Pacaya erupted, closing the airport, then we were hit by tropical storm Agatha and had to flee first Lake Atitlan then Guatemala, where the airport remained closed, for a ride home from El Salvador.

Here's what happened: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. There are photos of the experience in the Guatemala Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

And here are three hundred-odd photos in the HDR Gallery.

Why El Salvador?

Heather Berkman writes in Foreign Policy that it's mostly about drug interdiction. Plus there's no place much better in Central America for a U.S. president to visit:

"… El Salvador has remained politically stable. Honduras is still regrouping following the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Guatemala's government lacks the resources and the political will to effectively combat drug traffickers. Throw in the likely reelection of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua this year, Washington's ongoing tensions with Panama's mercurial President Ricardo Martinelli, and Costa Rica's lack of regional political weight, and El Salvador begins to look more like Washington's foothold in the region."


Entering El Salvador overland from Guatemala, bananas welcomed us to this republic.

From EarthPhotos.com.

Vivid Photo of Damage from Tropical Storm

A03+Local+Path+of+DestrHere is the most vivid photo I've seen of the damage around Lake Atitlan in the aftermath of tropical storm Agatha back at the end of May. We're kind of close to that particular disaster because we were visiting at the time (Read our stories).

I'm unsure, but I speculate this is the village of San Antonio Palopa, where 15 were killed by mud slides. San Antonia Palopa is one of a string of little villages ringing Lake Atitlan.

The photo comes from an article in the Red Deer Advocate newspaper, in Alberta, and the only attribution is "by contributed."

The Ride Out to Guatemala City

Two weeks ago today we fled tropical storm Agatha, from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, to Guatemala City. We've since learned that subsequently, road access to our hotel was cut in both directions by mudslides.

Here's the first part of our trip out, here are some pictures, and here's a follow-up about what happened at the hotel, Casa Palopo.

And here's the rest of the story of the trip out:

Elias, the van driver, got us started. Not too much debris in the road. Into and then past the little village of Santa Catarina. Plants bent in toward the van, mud or rocks might have slumped a foot or two from one side into the road, but it was mostly easy to avoid. Pretty much nobody was driving.

Crossing the river just before Panajachel, though, was a revelation. It was a torrent. Already they’d put barricades across the footbridge, and people milled around gaping at the rising water, more than I’d have thought would be out in driving rain.

Part of a building with a corrugated roof, maybe a warehouse or light industrial, was collapsed into the river from its perch on the shore maybe ten feet above.

Panajachel is the main town on Lake Atitlan. The few tuk tuks that were out, which look liable to blow over on a good day, were in full crisis.  Water flowed a few inches through the streets.

The whole world was saturated – the rain, the ground, the roads, the air – and so were the insides of the van windows. All fog. First Elias and then we all began mopping. The ventilation was just overmatched, and we’d be mopping all the way to Guatemala City.

At some early point it became essentially impossible to see out the windows, except for the little area Elias constantly wiped down for six hours. For a while we’d slide a window open for a fleeting instant if there was something we wanted to see.

Finally, as the wetness began to equalize inside and outside the van, we dropped that nicety. Especially as we began a steep climb away from the lake toward the department capital called Solola. We drove around a corner and threw open the windows in amazement at what we saw.

I guess this was when Mirja and I realized we were in a real predicament.

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Damage Report from Lake Atitlan

Talked with Janet at Casa Palopo on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala this morning, ten days after we fled the hotel in the middle of tropical storm Agatha, which ultimately killed some 150 people in Central America. The news, thankfully, is pretty good, considering.

There was some slight damage around the hotel. It was isolated, cut off from road access to the villages on either side of the hotel for a week, until Sunday, but yesterday the road was opened all the way to Panajachel, the main town on the lake. Until then, the staff had been coming to work by boat.

Three employees' houses were damaged by mud slides but nobody's family was injured.

Casa Palopo is closed until Friday.


Photo was taken driving away from Lake Atitlan during tropical storm Agatha on Saturday, 29 May. More photos are going up this week in the Guatemala Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

It Wasn’t the Volcano, It Was the Tropical Storm

The headlines were about Volcan Pacaya and the sinkhole, but the real misery was caused by tropical storm Agatha. Here are quotes from coverage of destruction around Lake Atitlan, with links to the stories in which they appear:

We walked to the road above the house just in time to see a wall of
mud . . . wash over the bridge and down into the river. The ground
shook with the force and it sounded like a freight train passing a few
feet from you.”


"The couple's home escaped damage, but about one-quarter of their Mayan village of Santa Catarina Palopo was decimated.

"Where there were roads, it's a mountain of rubble and mud. When you
go through the villages, there's no more villages – it's all a big lump
of mud, rocks and dirt," he said.

Two people died in their village, but one-third of the population of
neighbouring San Antonio, five kilometres away, was wiped out.

"I have an American friend in that village and while the storm was happening, he called me in a panic," Mr Seroussi said.

"The conversation was helpless. He could see people dying with his own eyes."

But Mr Seroussi and his British-born wife, Marcelle, were trying to stay calm.

"I've never in my life heard anything like that storm," he said.

"The noise of the landslide and the water was frightening – it was incredible. You could hear people's houses being taken away."


"The Guatemalan government said more than 36 inches of rain fell in
parts of the country and dozens of towns and villages were inaccessible
because of roads blocked by debris.

United States sent six military aircraft to Guatemala, from a base in
Honduras, to ferry aid and help with evacuations from isolated areas.

Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City was already closed after
being showered with ash from an eruption of the Pacaya volcano earlier
last week.


"The worst storm-related disaster occurred in a village in Solola
department where a landslide swept away 25 homes killing 15 people,
with another 10 missing, according to San Antonio Palopo Mayor Andres

To prevent an outbreak of disease, the bodies will be buried at once, he said.




We fled Lake Atitlan only hours before it all happened. We crossed the bridge in the photos above within six hours of its collapse. When it gave way the communities around the lake were isolated, perhaps until now, six days later.

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