I'm just back from Guatemala, here are a few thoughts:
- On the business end of things, I am extremely pleased with our session at the APEE Conference. I say "our" as it was designed, at least in part, to be a TPS session. Claudia presented a nascent paper pushing the development envelope forward, finally finding a proper connection for geography, culture, institutions and growth. David presented his very enjoyable work on the economic of organized crime, with a particular emphasis on the Mexican Mafia in California. I spoke on the distribution of legislative tenure in the United States Congress and its impact on legislative productivity. I won't comment on my work, but I found the other two presentations terrifically engaging and, simply put, interesting. The three of us were discussants for each other's papers, which gave a nice, friendly groundwork for the audience to chime in after the presentations and discussant comments. I also feel that we were fortunate enough to hit the optimal number of audience members-- about 15. Any less than that, and a good enough discussion can be difficult to achieve, or comments exhaust too quickly. Any more than 15, and sometimes comments that would emerge in smaller groups remain unsaid.
I was so pleased with the session that I think we should aim for a TPS session every year-- we can even keep the Jeopardy!-inspired title of "Economics Potpourri" if we see fit. The primary goal is that the work has to be interesting; I also liked the fact that we discussed each other's papers, I think it was a nice touch that set a nice tone for the ensuing comments.
Justin was originally on the agenda as well, though he got a bit busy this semester and couldn't make the trip. I have no doubt his presentation would only have made the session a greater enjoyment for all attending.
- Also on the business end of things, we may have a new blogger joining us here at TPS...news (hopefully) to come soon.
- I had the good fortune of seeing a few places in Guatemala over the last week or so. The Mayan ruins at Tikal are stunning; it is a bit out of the way (1 hour flight from Guatemala City to Flores, then a 1 hour cab ride to the ruins) but well worth the trek. Staying the night at the park is best so an early morning entrance can happen. I had previously been to the ruins at Tulum-- those are a nice collection in and of themselves, but simply can't compare if for no other reason for the sheer size of the ruins at Tikal. Further, you are allowed (if not encouraged) to climb most of the structures at Tikal-- it's like an adult junglegym, though some of the larger temples are not for the faint of heart, especially Templo V. (Note the ladder to the top here.) Independent of convenience, if you see one thing in Guatemala, it has to be Tikal.
We also visited Antigua, which I felt was slightly overrated given the hype though nonetheless enjoyable, Monterrico, a terrific town directly on the Pacific Ocean, and climbed the Volcan Pacaya, a nice mid-level hike on an active volcano that made noise the entire trip up and back.
All in all, the country is very affordable, the food was superb, the people were very friendly, it helps to have some Spanish language knowledge but English can generally get you what you need, travel between cities can be mildly inconveient but ultimately doable, and safe as long as you aren't foolish about your whereabouts. Given its price and close proximity to the United States, it's a great warm weather destination.