Thursday, August 28, 2014

Road Trip, Guat Style

This is what a rest stop looks like in Guatemala. 

So very colorful.

And peaceful. 

With things to buy. 

And fountains.

In Hot Water

Driving through Guatemala is rather interesting. Guatemala city is both modern and decayed at the same time; a sort of slum that is also not a slum. You hear about run down and modern side by side but you see it in Guatemala the way you don’t see it in Asia. The pollution is thick this time, and I can feel it in my lungs, finding it difficult to breathe until we are finally past the city. The bus, today, is crowded and I’ve been placed in the front seat with all the other travelers behind me. Everyone else speaks both English and Spanish without very much problem. Perhaps I am excluded but it allows me to take in the passing countryside.

We go further on this trip than I had on my last, I get to see more this time than I had seen before. There is so much rolling green all over, interspersed with this strange sense of a country so poor. There are few cars and more walkers on foot between cities. Older ladies and older men dressed in the clothing of the region, carrying sticks and twigs on their back, others with straw and hay. At one point we drive by young men sitting on the side of the road with sticks that have parrots attached to the end with a string.

“What are they doing?”

“Oh, they are selling the birds.”

There are signs all over the airport warning about trying to smuggle animals illegally and now it is clear why. We see other perched on the road selling cotton candy, and the endless line of people who seem mostly to walk back and forth with twigs and sticks on their back.

The hills are covered with rows of corn and plants. Most of which get shipped to other parts of the Central and South America. “We send a lot of the food to Venezuela for oil.” The corn grows here year round, in the perpetual summer of Central America. The sky is clear and moves from clear to slightly cloudy and back again, but always clear. We pass up through the mountains, ringed on all sides by volcanos. As we ride up one slope our hosts point out a particular area.

“This is called the Alaska of Guatemala.”

“Why is that?”

“Well here, during the day it never gets above 70 but at night it gets very cold. Sometimes it snows here over night.”

“Your’re from Chicago, right, Sara, doesn’t it get a lot of snow.”

“Oh, we only had 88 inches this year.” Silence in the van.

As we go down the road we see signs everywhere as we get close to Xela that say “Agua Frio”. The signs are everywhere for it, until finally I ask, “Those signs do say ‘hot water’ right?”

“Yes, they are selling hot water.”

“Oh that’s right,” exclaims one of the hosts, “the last time we were here they didn’t have hot water in the hotel.” This was followed by more silence. And some amusement.

“But we are almost here. Xela is famous for its volcano, but we probably won’t have time to see it.” However the city itself is really quite interesting, older, one of the older colonial cities in Guatemala. We pull into the town square of Xela, and our hotel is up a narrow road right around the corner. “The city was built before cars, and the roads are really narrow, I don’t think anyone ever imagined cars here.” Narrow was an understatement, we were practically scrapping walls on our way into the town. However, the claustrophobic aspect of the drive was worth it, as when we finally managed to climb up the last short hill on our trip we were perched at a very pretty pension that would be our home for the next three days.