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; it's a sort of slum that is also not a slum. You hear about rundown and modern side by side but you see it in Guatemala the way you don’t see it in Asia. The pollution was thick this time, and I could feel it in my lungs, finding it difficult to breathe until we were finally past the city. The bus was crowded and I’d been placed in the front seat with all the other travelers behind me. Everyone else spoke both English and Spanish without much problems. Perhaps I was being excluded but it allowed me to take in the passing countryside.

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

“What are they doing?”

“Oh, they are selling the birds.”

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

The hills were covered with rows of corn and other plants, most of which got shipped to other parts of Central and South America. “We send a lot of the food to Venezuela for oil.” The corn grew here year round, in the perpetual summer of Central America. The sky was clear and moved from clear to slightly cloudy and back again, but always clear. We drove up through the mountains, ringed on all sides by volcanos. As we rode up one slope our hosts pointed 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 overnight.”

“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 went down the road we saw signs everywhere as we get close to Xela that said Agua Frio. Finally I asked, “Those signs do say Hot Water right?”

“Yes; they are selling hot water.”

“Oh that’s right,” exclaimed 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 was really quite interesting, as it was one of the older colonial cities in Guatemala. We pulled into the town square of Xela, and our hotel was 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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Spanish success: I take pleasure where I can.

The next morning I got breakfast in the restaurant downstairs after a rather intense workout. The new workout and diet program I was on required me to eat carbs three days a week. It pained me and I hated it, but I figured that was what I had to do, and I would do it. I figured for breakfast I would have toast.

The waiter asked me in Spanish what I wanted. I managed passibly.

Quiero toast?”

Si, senora, toast y café?”

Si, café.”

Con leche?”

“No…no leche. Ah, negro?”

“English?”

“Yes.”

Okay.

“Anything else?”

“No, just toast.”

He walked away and came back with three pieces of toast and black coffee with some jam on the side. I noticed all the jam was apple with only one strawberry. I despise apple jam so I stopped the waiter.”

“Uh,” I pointed, because pointing really seemed like the best way to negotiate what I wanted.

“Uh,” I pointed to the single strawberry.

Mas?”

“Okay.”

He walked away and came back a few moments later with nothing but apple jam.

I sort of looked at the plate defeated, in my brain the word manzana kept floating around, which of course was very unhelpful since it translated to apple. Finally, though out of a cloud:

Fresias. Me gusto fresias. Quiero fresia por favor?’

Fresias?”

Si?”

My waiter smiled again and walked off with the jam. He returned a few moments later with a plate full of strawberry jam.

Gracias.”

De nada. Me nombre Jesus. Nota Jesus.”

He handed me a complement card so I could recommend him by name, which I happily did. He even filled up my thermos with coffee for the long drive that would take most of the day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back in Black

The Rollergirl had moved to Guatemala, of which I was aware, and since I was going to be in Guatemala I asked her out for dinner.

“What time and where to go?”

“Meet me at my hotel at 6.” I gave her the room number and she phoned to get up. I put on a pretty dress and went to grab my bag, as the door opened. I ushered her in just as I finished my rather life-altering phone call.

“You aren’t going out like that are you?”

“Well, I was planning on it. There was a place down the road I thought we could go to.”

“Okay, but you need to put your phone and your wallet in your pockets.”

“I don’t have pockets.”

“You have to.”

“But…”

“We also need to be back before it gets dark and we shouldn’t drink out there, you know.”

Feeling rather deflated I asked why.

“Well this area is notorious for muggings. I really don’t want a gun in my face.”

This rather quickly changed my feelings about the plans that I had in relation to going out to dinner.

“You know, the hotel has food and a bar. How do you feel about eating here, and drinking here, then.”

“That is okay, that sounds okay.”

“But…”

I could tell.

“Give me a second, then,” I pulled my dress over my head and put back on the black dress I had been traveling in all day.

“That’s better.”

“You just like it because it’s black.”

“Maybe.”

We went downstairs to go to dinner. The walls of the restaurant were open, allowing the breeze to come in from the street. For a hotel that was booked solid the place was empty for dinner. We sat by a waterfall and discussed our lives, our decisions, the things we wanted to do with our life. The food was lovely, the drinks were cool. The night seemed to solidify around the future with both of us making a variety of choices about what we would do moving forward.

The flavors of the evening were both bitter and sweet and we finished in time for her to walk safely home and for me to adjourn to my room to get ready for the early morning road trip that would take me to my destination for this particular tour of Guatemala.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Contemplation on the Future

I was back to Guatemala for the summer edition of what I love to do. After flying to New York there was a new resolve.

One way or another, I was going.

One way or another, I needed to go.

One way or another, there is the thing I do, and that thing is defining, a key core characteristic of who I am as a person, and without it I feel ennui, lost, bored. After New York, I knew that things were going to change one way or another. What I did not know, would be how long change would take.

In the meantime, I flew to Guatemala again, with all expenses handled for a presentation. I was excited to present, excited to see some old friends, excited to make some new. The flying itself was taxing as ever, even though I never left my time zone. Three a.m. to an airport, one p.m. landing. In all, uneventful.

In the lead up I spent five months working on my Spanish again, a rather constant studying, that included (among other things) reading novels in Spanish. I landed feeling very pleased with myself, knowing that I had worked hard to learn the language.

Going through customs the first words out of my mouth were Korean.

I suppose some things never change.

I got to the hotel and checked my email.

According to my email my life was about to change.

One phone call later, and the trip to Guatemala was not the only thing floating around in my brain. I tried to settle down, got a bite to eat, and make arrangements for dinner with a thousand thoughts in my head.

Life was going on, one way or another.