EXPLORATION OF CARIBBEAN LIFE: A TRIP THROUGH BELIZE

This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

I spent two weeks with family in Belize, a small country in Central America near Guatemala. This is the view from our front door in the small town of Dangriga. Belize is the only country in Central and South America where English is the official language, although Spanish and Creole are more commonly spoken by the natives. While there, I was able to travel throughout the country, including the capital, Belmopan. Although poverty-stricken, the country is strikingly beautiful.

This tree, which was part of a tour through the rainforest, is crawling with termites. The termites are actually edible, and tasted a bit like minty carrots, although I would not suggest them as a snack because of their unappetizing texture.

In the rainforest, there are several trails you can drive on to reach a large variety of clearings, wildlife and lakes. The large national parks offer several trails, including the one we took in our large van, which led to a waterfall surrounded by birds and small fish that nibble at your toes as you stand in the water.

The cave rivers are another natural beauty and tourist destination of Belize. The tour guides lead you on a trek through the forest to the head of the river, telling you about the ancient Mayan history Belize has to offer on the way. The cave tours are only offered during the dry season, as the rain often floods the openings during the wet season.

This is a photo of a coconut before the skin is carved away to reveal the small brown coconut sold in grocery stores. Growing on the beach outside our door, coconuts produce a juice that is a common drink, sold at all the marketplaces in Dangriga and Belmopan.

This is one of the many fruit markets the locals frequent. The fresh fruits and vegetables are incomparable to those you find in the United States, tasting as though you picked the mango off the tree yourself.

Charlie the fisherman is pictured here getting the morning’s catch ready for the market. Charlie also took us on a tour to one of the nearby islands, as many of the locals are willing to do.

Fish are an incredibly large market for Belize, and are a main source of income for its people, both through domestic consumption and international exports. It’s incredibly hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t have fish on half the menu, and you can count on it to be fresh and cooked perfectly.

We found this iguana sunbathing on the side of the road. It is also common to see other animals, such as wild boars, run across the road as you drive by.

On Christmas Day, the people of Dangriga gathered in the heart of the town to watch the festivities, which were mainly comprised of native songs and dances celebrating the holiday.

Besides barbeques and decorations, many people dressed in costume participated in the traditional dance and song. Most of this was in the Belizean Creole, a mixture of English, Spanish, French and Dutch. Dancers attached shells to their ankles to add rhythm to the dances.

Two of the dancers pose for us after the festivities. From what we could understand of what they told us, they are dressed as the gods, and they are dancing to pray for a new year and, by dressing in their likeness, thank the gods for what they have given the people. The costumes are all handmade and saved for the following years.

This was one of the pyramids at the Mayan city of Xunantunich, which means “maiden of the rock”. From the top of the pyramid, you can see the Guatemalan border and Tikal, one of the most famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala. Xunantunich was a burial site, and the Mayan people lived further down near the river. The pyramids are all made out of limestone, and it is still a mystery how the Mayans were able to move the limestone and build the pyramids with the incredibly limited technology they had access to.

In a closer view of the pyramids, we see how the Mayans used frieze to tell the stories of their gods and the kings who were buried inside.

As two birds perch on a fence they feed each other pieces of corn. Although completely wild birds, they returned to the restaurant where we were to get food from the cooks there, who named and fed them.

This is chili mash, a mixture of ground habanero that is fermented in its early stages before becoming hot sauce. The photo was taken at Marie Sharp’s, a hot sauce factory based in Belize, which provides hot sauce to countries all over the world, and is one of the main chili sauce suppliers for Japan. The chilies themselves are all grown in the farms right outside the factory, and are completely fresh and organic. The factory also offers tourists an inside tour of the facility to see the process in totality.

This little girl, Elia, spent the day with us on the beach in Punta Gorda, a town undergoing heavy development allowing tourists to buy extravagant houses and retire on the Belizean seaside.

CONSTANT CHANGE AND COMPROMISE: EXPLORING TLACUITAPA, MEXICO

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By Risa Farrell
Contributing Writer

Each year, UCSD students have the unique opportunity to conduct transnational research in the United States and Mexico through the Mexico Migration Field Research Program. This year, the team traveled to the rich and vibrant state of Jalisco to study the public health effects of international migration in the quiet town of Tlacuitapa.

For over four generations, Tlacuitapenses have immigrated to the United States. Tlacuitapa, like many rural locales in Mexico, has been significantly impacted by important national events in the last century. The violence of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and the ensuing Cristero Revolt disrupted economic and social life in Tlacuitapa, fostering large waves of emigration. Later, weak agrarian reform promoted by President Lázaro Cárdenas created a large population of impoverished peasants that depended on subsidies and favors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the political party that ruled Mexico from 1929-2000 and has since regained power.

Additionally, between 1942 and 1964, the U.S.-Mexico Bracero program allowed millions of temporary agricultural workers to come to the United States and find jobs. Hundreds of Tlacuitapenses immigrated to the United States in search of work and were able to obtain legal residency through Immigration Reform and Control Act’s 1986 “general amnesty”. Since then, Tlacuitapa has continued to remain a transnational community in which the people are shaped by continual movement across the border.

Nestled in the desert mountains of Los Altos, one Tlacuitapense described the town as “como la tierra.” “We are like a cactus,” he mused, “part of land; full of thorns, but harmless if respected and left alone.” Despite this warning, the people of Tlacuitapa were friendly and as diverse as the many-colored houses that line the narrow streets of the city. Their wrinkled faces hide younger bodies and tired eyes show the physical strain of generations of struggle. These people have seen hard times and lived hard lives, but they still manage to laugh and welcome us into their homes with a smile.

The culture is vibrant and diverse, laced with influences from both the United States and Mexico. Mornings of champurrado and chilaquiles, followed by lunches of homemade pozole (pictured above) are routine, yet American pop songs play from the cars passing by on the narrow, cobbled street. The Tlacuitapenses preserve their heritage with pride, even as their community of Norteños is shaped by constant change and compromise.

Each year, Tlacuitapa comes to life for nine days of festivities honoring the town’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the days leading up to the fiestas, hundreds of migrants and their families return from their homes in the U.S. to join their fellow townspeople in the celebration.

The streets are lined with trucks and cars bearing license plates from Jalisco, Oklahoma, Aguascalientes, and California as Tlacuitapenses reunite to spend time with friends and family. By day the town resonates with church bells calling all to mass, while cumbia music and dazzling carnival lights fill the night air.

This year was Tlacuitapa’s first annual molé festival, and an entire day was devoted to praising the town’s famous chile-chocolate sauce. Modern molé is a mixture of ingredients from three continents, North America, Europe and Africa, making it the first international dish created in the Americas. However, it is based in Mexico and multiple Mexican states claim to be the birthplace of the legendary sauce. The residents of Tlacuitapa take particular pride in their molé and claim it is the best in the region.

The quiet town explodes with color, music and smells as its people gather to commemorate its rich history. In a town of international migrants, the fiestas are reserved for cherishing Mexican heritage and national pride, and it was an honor to take part in these celebrations. A tumultuous history and international economic pressures have forced many families apart in order to survive, but for two short weeks in January, Tlacuitapa chooses to celebrate their reunification.

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS: A EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS STORY

This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Dilara Onur
Contributing Writer

The charm and beauty of Christmas in Vienna and Prague is something I urge every avid traveler to experience. The scale upon which these two beautiful Eastern European cities celebrate the holiday season makes them well worth the visit, regardless of religious affiliation. Christmas markets are arranged throughout the main city squares where people line up to drink mugs full of steaming spiced wine, eat sugary confections, and buy a variety of holiday mementos to prepare themselves for the winter season. The streets are ornamented with thousands of lights that make evening strolls extraordinarily festive. And the cold weather brings lovers arm in arm and families bundled up together.

As I, the over eager tourist, was lucky enough to be amidst all this holiday cheer, one thing became strikingly apparent: we all hold on to tradition. The winter holiday season holds different significance for each person as customs vary by religion, culture and nation. Despite this, all of them involve a commonality that helps mold and define these seasonal celebrations to their true shape: tradition. The end of the year marks a time for change and the hope for progress. However, it seems that no matter where we come from, what we believe in, or what language we speak, we all cling to some tradition as a means of security and warmth—something that makes even the coldest winter nights delightful and merry.

Below are some of my favorite moments captured during my winter wonderland adventure—giving a small glimpse of the holiday season in Vienna and Prague. They do, in my eyes however, evoke the spirit of these beautiful cities transformed for the winter and the end of the year celebrations; a spirit of tradition that I was fortunate enough to observe and enjoy.

Stephansdom. Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is emblematic of Vienna. It is the seat of the archbishop and one of the main tourist attractions of the city. Although damaged by fire due to WWII, this beautiful Cathedral holds great religious, cultural and artistic significance. The mosaic tile roof is a distinguishing and unique part of this church. A building with a powerful presence, the cathedral truly embodies the heart and soul of the city.

St. Stephen’s Kaleidoscope. Vienna, Austria

As you go inside St. Stephen’s, you are given a whole different perspective. I am not sure if the colorful lighting was a seasonal or year-round decoration, but it was indeed like walking through a giant kaleidoscope as the colors dance vibrantly on the cold, grey walls of the cathedral. Hundreds of locals and tourists alike lined up in the cold at midnight Christmas Eve to attend mass for a distinctly beautiful ceremony.

Old Town Square. Prague, Czech Republic

One of two main squares in the city, Old Town square, or Staroměstské náměstí, exudes historical beauty and dates back to the 12th century. This is a just a slice of the incredible 360º view from the Astronomical Clock tower. Shown is the Tyn Church and part of the Christmas market down below. An enormous tree, numerous food shacks and a concert stage fill the square during this time of the year. The roof structures on this church, known as spires, can be seen jutting out into the sky all over Prague.

Looking Out. Prague, Czech Republic

An observant guard at the Prague Castle can be seen wearing a ceremonial winter dress uniform. Said to be the largest castle in the world, the Prague Castle has rich political history, as leadership over the nation was transferred multiple times, including from the Kingdom of Bohemia, to the Habsburgs and finally to the current Republic. The establishment of the Republic in the early 20th century led to the creation of the castle’s guard force.

Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz. Vienna, Austria.

The largest and most popular Christmas market in Vienna is the one stationed in front of Rathaus, the city hall. Excited crowds of locals and tourists come to enjoy a stroll through markets—like this one—to enjoy music, food and good company. Popular food items include puncshe (hot spiced alcoholic drink), maroni (roasted chestnuts) and bratwurst (sausage hot dogs). Other items to be sold include souvenirs, clothing, Christmas decorations and crafts—like the lanterns shown in this picture.

Connect the Dots. Vienna, Austria

Perhaps the most affordable and easiest way to experience the holiday spirit was to just be outside. Every street, in Prague as well, had some sort of decoration—be it lights, wreaths or tinsel. The chilly weather did not prevent anyone from enjoying a nice stroll through the illuminated city streets, reminding me of my childhood neighborhood during the holidays. One of my favorite shots of the decorations shows the huge red spheres hanging in one of the streets leading to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Kind of looks like some sort of life-size Pacman game, no?

Keep it Rolling. Prague, Czech Republic

The Christmas markets of Prague would delight any and all of your senses, but the smell of a warm, sweet pastry could not go unnoticed. Trdelnik is like the Czech’s version of Cinnabon, with half the guilt and all the satisfaction. Dough is wrapped around a large metal spool, which is then cooked and toasted on an open-flame rotisserie. Once ready, the spool is removed and rolled around in a coating of cinnamon, sugar and crushed almonds. The pastry is then removed from the spool, leaving a hollow, cup-shaped, portable, pull apart, must-have-over-and-over-again confection.

Love Lockdown. Prague, Czech Republic

There is something about the wintertime that brings people together—be it the climate or the endless holiday celebrations. Prague emulates the romance of many other European cities, with cobblestone streets illuminated by iron lanterns ¬— adorned with picturesque statues. Walking along the oldest and most visited bridge in the city, the Charles Bridge, at sunset confirmed this fact. Upon the railings I saw these locks, engraved or marked with the initials of a pair of lovers. Not as impressive as the Bridge of Love in Serbia or the Pont des Arts in Paris, perhaps—but definitely something that warms your heart.

Founding Father. Vienna, Austria.

Vienna, as the birthplace of such celebrated composers as Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss, is a historical and cultural hub for classical music. Concert halls, plazas and statues all pay homage to the various musicians and composers that lived in the city, like this famous statue of Mozart residing in Burggarten. Classical music’s influence on the nation can be noticed anywhere from local bakeries—in the form of a delicious layered cake called Mozart torte—to souvenir shops selling music note mugs or Austrian Airways playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony before take-off.

Blue Tyn-sel. Prague, Czech Republic

In my experiences abroad, I have learned one thing about sightseeing: everything you visit in the day, you also have to see at night. The Tyn Church, especially in its Christmas splendor, was magical after the sun set . Upon seeing the church at night, my family noted, “It is like Disneyland… but real.” A gothic church with incredible presence stands as one of the main edifices in the Old Town Square. An interesting fact about the church: it houses the oldest pipe organ in the city.

Glühwein. Vienna, Austria

My brother just could not get enough of glühwein, a traditional Christmas mulled wine at the Viennese Christmas markets. Red wine heated and flavored with cinnamon, ginger and other spices fills the air with a soulful aroma. And the vendors even let you keep the mug! The mug here shows a drawing of this particular market: Weinachtsdörfer at the Maria Theresa Square, which is situated between Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Museum of Natural History.

Maroniblüte. Vienna, Austria.

Chestnuts (maroni) are not just for roasting on an open fire. Served in a chocolate waffle cone bowl, this decadent dessert comprises a fluffy chestnut cream and a marzipan-like topping. We ordered this traditional, seasonal dessert at the elegant and popular Café Landtmann. Accompanying maroniblüte with a cup of milchkaffe, a café latte equivalent, makes this is the perfect holiday treat. Famous guests like Hillary Clinton and Paul McCartney have been known to visit Café Landtmann for their scrumptious pastries.

As a first generation American, I catch myself struggling to maintain the traditions my family taught me. But with this trip, I learned that a tradition is just as adaptable as it is strong. Traditions can indeed exist in a modern setting. We don’t have to push away ideals or experiences that don’t strictly adhere to tradition. Instead, modern ideals and experiences can modify the tradition to make it more appropriate to its present application. In my travels through Vienna and Prague, I observed historical and cultural traditions flourishing in the modernity of my world. Rather than tainting these traditions, the modern setting appeared to only enhance their special value. Walking in the cold, indulging in sweets, and enjoying time with family are traditions I anticipate for the end of the year. But wandering through Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz, taking a sugary trdelnik to-go, and documenting my family in beautiful a Eastern European backdrop are adventures that made this holiday season even more special.