Friday, November 15, 2013

Guatemala Culture Report

The Country of Guatemala
By Caitlyn Hetzel
                Guatemala is a country of interesting history, people, animals, and productions. It is a country of volcanoes, mountains, and beaches on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. From the Cuchamatán  Mountains in the western highlands, to the coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, this small country is marked by contrasts. Three of Guatemala's 30 volcanoes are still active.
            Pacaya volcano located near Guatemala City is the most active volcano. Lake Atitlan formed when a volcano exploded over 84,000 years ago and collapsed to form a caldera. The lake is the deepest lake in Central America and is believed to be 900 feet deep and covers 48 square miles.

Pacaya Volcano
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            Only slightly larger than the U.S. state of Tennessee, Guatemala is a mountainous country with one-third of the population living in cool highland villages. The coastal lowlands are warm and humid. The country is bordered by Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize.
            High in the mountains in the misty cloud forests lives the colorful quetzal bird. In the bright sunshine, both the male and female quetzal bird have vibrant green, white, and red feathers, but only the male has the fabulous long tail that can measure 3 feet long.

Quetzal Bird in Flight
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            The ancient Maya people believed that the quetzal bird was the living form of the god Quetzalcoatl. Today the rare bird is listed as endangered due to destruction of tropical rain forests. The cloud forest mist provides a water source to air plants known as bromeliads which cling to tree trunks. The forest floor is also home to orchids, ferns, and mosses. The lowland Petén region in the northeastern part of the country is home to many plants and animals including, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, mule deer, and the ocelot.
            Archaeologists believe that the earliest settlers to Guatemala crossed the Bering Strait from Asia 14,000 years ago and evidence of human settlements date to around 9000 B.C. People began to farm and form villages around 1000 B.C. and some of them became the Maya who dominated Guatemala history from A.D. 250 to 900.
            The Maya temple at Tikal was built over 1,300 years ago as a tomb to honor the Maya ruler, Ah Cacaw. Tikal, once an expansive city and home to 100,000 people, began to decline in A.D. 850, and was abandoned about 50 years later. The ruins were not discovered until 1695.

Maya Temple at Tikal National Park
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            In the 16th century, the Spanish invaded and fought the largest remaining group called the Quiché. The Quiché were overpowered and forced to work on vast estates in the newly established colony of New Spain. In 1821, Guatemala claimed independence from Spain.
            The Maya civilization was very advanced in math and astronomy. The Maya probably developed the concept of zero and left written records using hieroglyphics and whole words. While historians are not sure why the Maya Empire collapsed, the Maya society began to shrink in the 10th century and split into separate groups. They may have suffered from overpopulation and the effects of drought.
            Maya women continue to weave brightly colored cloth and fashion the same traje, or suit, that their ancestors wore. More than half of the population is indigenous. The largest of the 20 Maya groups, the Quiché, live near the city of Quetzaltenango, called Xela (SHEH-la) by the locals.

Guatemalan Textiles
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            Many believe that the name Guatemala comes from the Maya word Guhatezmalh, that described the volcano near the old capital in Antiqua, the "Mountain That Vomits Water." Today the volcano is simply called the Volcan de Agua, "Volcano of Water."
             Decades of civil war and repression of the indigenous people killed hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans in the 20th century. In 1996, a new president, Alvaro Arzu, signed a peace agreement with rebels and ended the 36-year civil war. A new constitution in 1986 established three branches of government. The president serves for only one term and is assisted by a vice president and the Council of Ministers. New laws are passed by Congress. President Alvaro Colom Caballeros was sworn in January 2008. 
            Guatemala's economy boomed in the 1870s thanks to coffee exports. Wealthy landowners pushed Maya communities off their land to make way for more coffee plantations. And we all know that coffee and sugar go hand in hand. They produce 52.84% of the sugar supply in the world. In addition to coffee and sugar, Guatemala is known for their plethora of bananas. Today, they ship out more than $300 million bananas to the U.S. alone. Guatemala is a country of interesting history, people, plants, animals, and productions.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nicaragua--Land of Debt, Perseverance & Geographical Wonder

Every year that I teach Spanish, I assign culture projects and reports to my students.  Learning about the people and culture of a language is as important as learning the language itself.  This year I will be sharing with you on the blog, the projects and reports from my students.  The work is all their own, only edited for puncuation and grammar.  I am sure they would love your comments and support, and any knowledge of the country or subject you may be able to add!  

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Rarely does anyone give the struggling country of Nicaragua any thought. They struggle economically due to natural disasters and the like. In the past, groups of dictators or specific political parties have dominated the Republic in Nicaragua. Despite the strife, the country still offers vibrant scenery, a characteristic of Central America, and a mysterious mountain top. Don’t cross off Nicaragua from your vacation list just yet.
Nicaragua functions consistently like the other Central American countries. In September 1821, the Nicaraguans gained independence and later enacted a republic form of government. As their official language, they speak Spanish. Predominantly, the people of Nicaragua claim to be Roman Catholic. The population count, as of July 2005, reached 5,465,100 which still ranked them as the largest and most sparsely populated country in Central America. If measured against a state in the U.S., New York would come the closest. Bordering Nicaragua, Honduras lies to the north and Costa Rica covers her flank. On each side, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea churn and rumble. Sandy beaches run up and down the east side of the country, and bubbling volcanoes smoke along the west coast. Tropical valleys, enigmatic mountains, and a memorable lake all compile together in the middle with the capital Managua.  Nicaragua has catastrophic debt. It accumulated to such a tragic number; they qualified for a debt reduction by the sum of $4 billion. Besides their massive debt, Nicaragua similarly resembles its neighboring countries.

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Nicaraguan history spins a tale of dictators and a fight for peace. Their name came from the dominant native tribe who lived there when the Spanish discovered Nicaragua in 1522. The people of Nicaragua declared independence in 1821, but they established themselves as an Independent Republic in 1838. After a few assassinations and a short civil war, the group Sandinista Guerrillas overthrew the harsh family, the Somozas that had been previously running the country. They were no better. With the help of a war, the Sandinista Guerrillas were overthrown in 1981, and free elections were held on Nov. 4, 1984. Sadly that did not halt corrupt leadership, however Nicaragua has taken positive steps. Just as Nicaragua undertook the process of rehabilitation, hurricane Mick, which left 2 million homeless and killed 9,000, struck the country. Now Nicaragua remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The story depicts a struggling republic that creditably persists.

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Mystery surrounds the mountain of Mogotón. Set on the border of Honduras and Nicaragua, Mogotón reaches the highest point in the nation. In the 80s, the Sandinistas activated mines which still remain on the mountain. Stories arose about people sustaining injuries or even dying due to the mines: “Si te Atreveis, no volveríes.” (If you have the guts to go you will never return.), the saying went. Truthfully mines do exist on the mountain; however, some locals know a safe route that leads to the top. During the week, sweeps are made for old mines and they are detonated in controlled circumstances. Swindlers, who charge the worth of an heirloom, lead unsuspecting marks up a phony path, so check for a four-foot-tall border marker to assure you are really at the peak of Mount Mogotón  People view the mountain as an adventure waiting for their gumption.

Little credit does the country of Nicaragua receive. Through the hardships, they have persevered. Their history was dominated by criminal leaders, yet their land still holds its beauty. Nicaragua is a part of God’s vast world worth exploring.
Laurie is a junior in high school.  She enjoys riding horses,
dancing, and taking Spanish classes from
her awesome sister.  Unsure yet of her future, she
anxiously awaits hints from God.  (In other words,
she has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up,
so don't ask her!)

Bibliography, Nicaragua,, November 2, 2013., Nicaragua, November 2, 2013.

Rodriguez, Christina. Cerro Mogotón, Nicaragua,, September 26, 2008, November 2, 2013

Summitbreeze. Climb Mogotón, Break the Myth.,, March 12, 2008. November 2, 2013