Thursday, August 28, 2014

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.

No comments: