April 26, 2005

Pro


Here's a reason why I'm not sad about only have 2 weeks left in Guatemala... Posted by Hello

Con


And here's a reason why I am sad about leaving. I'm going to miss these girls! Posted by Hello

April 21, 2005

Shot Heard Round The Block

Last night, a man was shot across the street from where I work.

When I pulled into work around 6 last night, there was a crowd gathering at the corner. There is usually a couple of food stands that set up there during the day, but this crowd was obviously not waiting in line for a churro.
As I parked my car, two ambulances came roaring in, and I noticed that my boss and another woman from church were standing in the street.
I found out later that a man had walked up to another man, shot him 5 times, point blank in the chest, and then ran away. He ran into our parking lot, hid behind the car parked next to mine for a while, and then ran out.
I don't know what happened to the man who got shot, but I doubt that he survived 5 gunshot wounds.
As for the guy who shot him, I'm willing to bet that he ran up a couple of streets, got on a bus, and went home.

I have less than 3 weeks left in Guatemala. Some days that makes me really sad. But last night, I wasn't sad at all about leaving. I have been so lucky to avoid any kind of violence in my time here, and it makes me forget that it happens every day, all over the city. How sad.

April 14, 2005

Thursday's Child Has Far To Go

The plan had been simple. Drive to the beach. Lounge around the pool all afternoon. Drive home. That’s it. That’s all we wanted to do. Not a complicated ordeal.

It should have been a breeze. It should have been a relaxing day

It should have been a lot of things.

But what it ended up being was something vastly different from what it should have been.

A 2 and a half hour drive became 6 hours.

A decision between going straight or turning left had consequences of epic proportions.

It became a day of small victories. Of battles fought and won. We waged a heroic fight, and eventually, overcame all obstacles. We may have lost our sanity, I may have messed up David's last day in Guatemala, my muffler may never be the same again, but by golly, we made it to the beach.

We didn’t let the protestors stop us. No! We charged on. Damn them who say driving into oncoming traffic is dangerous. We didn’t care! We were determined to go to the beach, come hell or mobs of Guatemalan protestors.

And who cares that our directions left a lot to be desired. I’d made the same drive just a short 4 months prior while sitting in the backseat of someone else's car. Surely the details that were left out of the directions I could make up for with my excellent memory.

It also didn’t matter that my cell phone lost service 45 minutes out of the city and I lost my opportunity to call people for better directions. And no need to tell David of that fact. I didn’t want to make the poor guy worry about it. Besides…everything had been easy since we passed the protestors. How bad could it get? We'd be sitting on the beach in a short 2 hours and then I could tell him that I had no way of getting us any help if, by some crazy turn of events, I had gotten us lost in southeast Guatemala.


So, I pressed on, without good directions and no way of getting better ones. When we passed the sign for the turn off to Escuintla, I took it. I don’t know why, and less than 5 minutes had passed before I realized I probably shouldn’t have. But oh well, we had Escuintla on one set of directions, so I figured at worst it would add 30 minutes to a our trip.
30 minutes. Big deal. Who cares about a lousy 30 minutes?

We kept trucking along. By then, we knew for sure we were following the “longer” route on the directions, but still eventually finding all the right cities. The Guatemalan countryside was beautiful, Jack Johnson was “La da da da da da da da da-ing” on the radio, and I was still feeling fairly confident that we were heading in the right direction. Not totally confident since I knew we were taking the longer route, the route I didn’t know, but I was still trusting that we were going to make it.

It all began to unravel during the Taxisco fiasco. On our directions it said to turn left to Taxisco and go to La Avellana. Once again, sounded simple but ended up being impossible. We drove straight though Taxisco without seeing any kind of sign for La Avellana or even another road. It was a small town with only one main road coming through it. Having no alternative, we took the road leading out of Taxisco, even though we had no idea where it was going to take us. After about 10 minutes, we passed through a small village. Checking with our map (THANK GOD FOR THE MAP), we realized we were heading straight for EL Salvador. Now, had we had our passports with us, that would have been a viable option. Sadly, sans passports, it just meant we were going in the wrong direction. Determining that we made a left when we should have made a right, we pulled a quick U-ey and turned around to head the right direction.
Or so we thought.
Actually, once we passed the road we had made our "mistake" at, I began to get a funny feeling. While one patch of open countryside is not readily identifiable from another patch of open countryside, I had a bad feeling that we'd already been here before. I consulted David (who I later figured out doesn't pay a bit of attention to landmarks, signs, or buildings while driving) who disagreed and didn't think any of this looked familiar. Left with no alternative but to keep driving, I kept on going. After another 20 minutes or so, I think I may have let out a loud "SHIT!" (I'm not absolutely positive that shit was my expletive of choice at the moment, but you get the idea.) We had just passed a sign for the Guatemalan Drive-Thru Safari. I am not sure what a drive-thru Safari is, but I was quite certain we had passed this exact same business an hour ago when we were still looking for Taxisco. Some how, we managed to just make a huge circle, and were now heading back to Escuintla.
It was at this moment that I was almost gave up. I was feeling horrible about wasting our morning. I felt stupid for not calling someone for better directions before we got on the road. I had no clue how to get us to the beach and I was beyond frustrated. I think it was at this point that I started apologizing every 5 minutes or so.

That was probably pretty annoying for David.

We ended up back in Escuintla (I think), where we found a road that was headed for Puerto San Jose, which we knew for a fact was on the coast. Road CA-9. It was supposed to be our salvation.
Like so many things that day, it did exactly what it was supposed to do but only in some kind of sick, twisted way. It got us to San Jose, yes. But it was this horrible road that was in the process of being repaved. At least, that's what all the signs said. However, it looked like it had been unpaved for a very long time and was going to remain that way for a while yet.
The worst part about this road wasn't the bumps and gravel and general malaise of the road...it was the brief stretches of intact paved road that totally messed with your head. You'd reach one, and think perhaps that the worst was over. From here on out it would be smooth sailing and San Jose was just minutes away. And then BAM! the asphalt would end and you'd be back to driving 15 miles an hour, dodging potholes and goats and trucks overflowing with sugarcane. It did this over and over until I couldn't handle it anymore and let David drive.

Eventually, we did make it to San Jose. And EVENTUALLY, we made it Iztapa. I think maybe I have blocked out this part of the trip because I don't remember how we did it. I just know it involved turning around a lot on a narrow, sketchy looking road and eventually asking the guard to Aqua Magic to help us. By then, I didn't care anymore. I'd given up hope that we were going to make it anywhere before sundown. I began thinking about how to get back to the city without having to go anywhere near CA-9 again.
But somehow...we found the dirt road that took us to the ferry we needed. Once we made it to the ferry, I knew we were going to make it. One left hand turn, 20 kms and we were there. Oddly enough, I wasn't very excited. Relieved? Yes. Excited? No.
But I think the day had taken it's toll on me by then. It was almost 3 o'clock--6 hours after we had set out for the beach. I still felt horrible that all of this had happened. I know we tried to make it sound better by saying that at least we got a good story out of it, but I still think I would have chosen the short, direct route over the good story. But only because my actions had involved other people. I can go back to the beach anytime, but this was David's chance to hang out on the Pacific coast of Guatemala and I kind of messed it up. Yes, we made it eventually, and we had a good time spending 3 hours hanging out by the pool and in the hammocks...but it was only a fraction of how good the day could have been.
But OH WELL. It's still a good story. And not a day I will soon forget.


Setting Sun on the Pacific Ocean Posted by Hello

April 9, 2005

Tikal and All

When I found out David was coming, for real, to Guatemala and that it wasn’t just a passing comment, I was equally thrilled and nervous. I was thrilled because it meant regardless of how he and I got along, I was going to Tikal finally.
Yes, I know it sounds like I was using him…but that’s only because I was using him. Give me a break. I’ve been here for months and I’ve done all the traveling I have the guts to do by myself and I am running out of time. I was willing to deal with anyone, so long as they would take up the seat next to me on the plane and tour bus.
I was worried because I’ve never spent more than a couple of hours at a time with David, and it was usually with a large group of people or at a party. I was nervous that we were going to run out of conversation topics by the time we left the airport, and that it then would become this unbearably awkward permanent lull. I even figured out which would be the best hostel in Antigua to send him to if he got too miserable.
With all the worrying I was doing, you’d think I hated David or thought he was the most annoying person on the planet. Neither of which are true. In fact, I’ve always liked David and got excited when I knew he was going to be in Georgetown or at one Jenny’s parties. Jenny is the only college friend I know that successfully merged her high school friends with her college friends on more than one occasion without any fatalities. Those crazy kids from Glasgow were a lot of fun and I always enjoyed time spent with them. So, in actuality, besides all the pointless what-if-ing I was doing, and the fact that I was desperate for company of any sort, I was really looking forward to time spent with him. If nothing else, I was going to see if my impression of him held up once we spent time together mano y mano. Or mano y womano. Or one on one. Or David and Tori, without Jenny. Or whatever. You get the point.
Most of my fears disappeared the moment he opened his backpack and pulled out the biggest stash of Mt Dew I have ever seen. Even if the week sucked, I could be so buzzed out on caffeine that it wouldn’t matter. It was amazing. I have no clue how he managed to bring me that much Mt Dew, and yet he never checked any luggage and he didn’t smell by the end of the week. If nothing else, the boy knows how to pack.
Monday was a low-key day. With all the traveling he’d done already, added to the fact that we had to be back at the airport by 5AM to catch our flight to Tikal, I decided to not drag him out of the city. We drove around a while, checked out the grocery store, and hit a few highlights, before I had mercy on him and let him take a nap before dinner. We spent the night at the house hanging out with the girls I live with. (Who, by the way, are completely in love with him now. Not an hour has gone by since he left that they haven’t brought him up in conversation around me. They even drew pictures of him last night and wanted to write him an email.)

Hi! I'm David. I am very cute, aren't i? "Tapioca! Tapioca!"  Posted by Hello
Tuesday morning came way too soon. I literally couldn’t sleep all night long. I don’t know if it was because of being in a different bed, or if had to do with the fact that I was so excited. Either way, I got up at 4, exhausted and needing large amounts of caffeine. We made it to the airport and got on the flight without any problems. In fact, they never even asked to see any ID or any confirmation that we were who the tickets we handed them said we were at either airport. Either we look like very trust-worthy tourists or they just didn’t care one way or the other. Just so long as I didn’t try to smuggle at banana or mango past them and they were satisfied. So, if you are planning terrorist activity in the Peten, just make sure you don’t throw an apple in your backpack.
Our guide, an incredible man named Juan, met us at the airport and took us, along with 2 other tourists out to the park. Juan is quite possibly the best tour guide on the planet. He was hilarious and not afraid to use sarcasm. His English was wonderful and he was not afraid to throw around words like voracious or omnivore. He also seemed to know everything there was to know about the park and the ruins, and we were never able to stump him with our questions. In fact, I think his father or brother or great-uncle twice removed was one of the first people to find some of the ruins and was made into a park ranger. Or something like that.
The ruins themselves were overwhelming in how amazing they were. I’ve never seen something so incredible as those pyramids and temples that just rose out of the jungle. We climbed two: the Damascus temple and Temple IV. The views from the top were incredible and worth every one of the 158 steps we climbed to get there.

On top of ol' Damascus Posted by Hello
Gail and Charlie, an older married couple from Maine who were also in our tour group were very nice, even though Charlie kept taking pictures of me and David. I don’t really know why, although at lunch he did imply that he would give us his blessing if we ever wanted to get married. They had great Maine accents and I loved listening to them talk. And their Spanish pronunciation was hilarious. “Because,” as Charlie told us, “after a while you just pick up things like ‘polo’ is chicken” (instead of pollo, which sounds more like “poyo” and not polo). Anyway, it was awesome to have only 4 people total in our tour group.
There are many hilarious stories from the day, but in the interest of getting through this post before dawn, I’ll save them for later. That night we went down to 4 degrees north for dinner, and managed to get offered the “romantic” table, which was this awesome table out on the balcony overlooking the street. It was a little cold and my body was reeling from the extremes in temperature we’d been through that day (it was 95 degrees in Tikal and had 80% humidity), but the food was amazing and totally worth being a little cold for.
Wednesday we decided to go to Antigua, which is one of my favorite places in all of Guatemala. I’ve pretty well explored the city as much as possible by now, but it was fun to show it all to David and watch him take it in. My favorite part of that day was the conversations we had while wondering through the beautiful cathedrals of the city. It was the first time I’ve said out loud any of these things I’ve been dealing with lately, and it felt kind of weird to be doing it in these beautiful old churches, but at the same time…if you can’t talk about God in church, where can you talk about him?
By Wednesday night, I was exhausted and my foot was killing me. I didn’t sleep well for the rest of the week because of the pain, but I figured a day on the beach on Thursday would be the perfect remedy for that.

If only I had known.

No matter how many drafts I make, I will never, ever be able to capture Thursday in words. It’s just not possible. The day was made up of a thousand stories and images that will never be done justice by a blog entry.
The TLC protestors blocking the road out of the city. The decision to jump the median and drive on wrong side of the road just to see how far we could get. Realizing that we could get around the roadblock and still go to the beach. Accidentally taking the road to Escuintla instead of going straight. Getting to Taxisco and not finding the road to the beach. That damn Safari place that confirmed my suspicion that we had just driven in a huge circle and were again GOING THE WRONG WAY. Finally finding CA-9 and the sense of elation and relief that I prematurely let invade my senses, only to be jarred back into the nightmare once we hit the road work and that horrible, god-forsaken road.. Driving for 45 minutes down an unpaved, uneven road that destroyed my muffler and turned my car from an unassuming alto into a gravelly bass. David mercifully offering to drive so that I could remain sane. Feeling like the road was going to be a dead end and the feeling of dread I got when we went around the second road block of the day. Feeling like I was ruining David’s trip by being such a stubborn idiot and getting us lost in the middle of Guatemala. Trying to keep my cool and keep my insanely stressed out status as hidden as possible so that at least I wouldn’t drive him insane with how frustrated I was.
Finally getting to Iztapa, which was where we had been trying to get all morning. Seeing the sign for the “real” CA-9 intersection I had been looking for all day. Knowing that we were going to be able to get home in less than 3 hours. Aqua Magic and that road that finally dead ended at the ferry we should have been at 4 hours before. Finally knowing exactly where we were. Pulling into the Utz Tzaba parking lot and standing up for the first time in 5 hours. That insanely sour limonada and walking into the Pacific Ocean for the second time in my life, which made me relax for the first time since I woke up that morning. Playing in the pool and lying in the hammocks, listening to the ocean beat upon the shore and letting the wind tie my hair into knots. Getting back into the car after only 3 hours spent on the beach. Still feeling bad that I’d messed up what was supposed to be a relaxing day, but appreciating the fact that David hadn’t once tried to bite my head off even though he deserved at least one good sucker punch.

Utz Tzaba, FINALLY Posted by Hello
Like I said, it was an insane day. But fortunately, David was a good sport about it all. And in the end, days like that always make for the best stories. Right? It was all worth it because now we have crazy stories to tell. Right?
Lord, I hope so.

The rest of the week was spent either hanging out with the girls at the house or sitting around watching David fall asleep if there was more than a 5 minute lull in conversation and a place to sit down. I used to think Ali was the “nappiest” person I knew, but David is in a league of his own.

All in all, this was probably the best week I’ve had in Guatemala. It helps, of course, that I didn’t have to deal with work or Paul almost all week. But mainly it was because I had someone to share all of this with. I’m sad it’s over, but it was fun while it lasted.