Letter Bridge 1: Filling in the Gaps from Guatemala
Antigua Travel Blog› entry 35 of 47 › view all entries
Jeff had come down to Honduras to wander with me for three weeks over the Christmas holidays in '92. He had a friend leading a Canada World Youth project in southern Honduras. After carousing with him a while, we broke from the others and header for Copan, made our way over to Tela and the Carribean island of Rotan, and then headed up into Guatemala before he flew back to Saskatchewan. Our time together was a quiet kind of easy companionship, born of a mutual pleasure in exploration and a consuming curiosity about the lives of others: no expectations or itineraries. We moved with the wind, and with changing inclinations.
After Jeff left, I stayed in Antigua, Guatemala, for a couple of weeks.
Perhaps because of the earthquake ruins, the town seemed to relax in the realization that the world was large, and that the people on it went around and around. The Guate Mayans in Antigua had schools for learning Quechean right along side the Spanish schools, and the markets were a mix of colour and hopefulness. The clean mountain air was a refuge from Guatemala City's squallor and pollution, and the day trip I took from Antigua, climbing Pacaya's active volcanic slopes, was nothing short of spectacular! Antigua was easily one of the favourite places I visited in all of my travels.
The night before I was forced to cut my Central American voyage short and leave the Guatemala, a 'recruiter' from one of the guerrilla groups knocked on the door of the (off the books) establishment I was staying at. Every backpacker at the time knew there was a good chance at some point that they would get "shaken down" for the cause.
In 1992, though, Guatemala semed to be slowly changing. Newspapers were more likely to criticize oppressive government actions against the native population, and Rigoberta Menchu, one of the revolutionary heros whose autobiography I had given a paper on the year previously, was about to come back from exile in Mexico, and would lead a million people through a celebratory march in Guatemala City. My plan was to stay another week in Guatemala, to take in the atmosphere after the rally, and then return to Costa Rica to say good bye to all my new friends there before heading down to Ecuador.
However, I had been up to Atitlan in the week preceding the evening of my unexpected visitor and my equally unexpected departure from Central America, and I had come back to Antigua, tail betwen my legs and extremely ill.
I think I scarred my the Guate rebel who banged on my door. He gazed at me, at the pack on the bed of my little windowless closet sized room and gave me a Mayan calendar--my last memento of Central America.
I wished him luck in his cause.
The following letter was my last from Central America. Written to the friend in Toronto who was housing 15-20 boxes of my books in her garage.
Another month has gone by and I am no closer to having achieved anything. Maybe it has something to do with my complete lack of ambition, or the fact that I set out to escape achievements?
This is truly a hedonistic existence
(even if the bad food and consequent illnesses steal some of the romance.)
Speaking of which...
I spent three weeks in
And, me, I'll admit that sometime in the future when I'm itching to move but can no longer afford it, I'll think seriously about hitching a ride to his wherever of the year, to act sponge.
got no pride
But then, when it comes to this lifestyle, pride is the least valued of commodities. What with 4-5 days passing and only one bucket of brackish water to wash with, or with a constant (bi-hourly) familiarity with dank toilets, or with either freezing or sweating the night away, swatting mosquitoes and sighing with the wind. Every noise imaginable making its way thru the many many cracks in ill-repaired slat wood walls.
...Still, the mirror stillness of turquoise waters, clear and perfect for coral snorkeling; the salty taste of a Caribbean or pacific sea-side breeze; powder-fine white sand between my toes; living a Caribbean postcard... well it kinda makes up for the inconveniences.
especially when you have someone to splash and giggle with
& here in
( it has food to die for, for instance, not from )
I've been taking it easy since Jeff flew back to Canadian blizzards. This city is an interesting and paradoxical mix of intellectuals and Indios, Hispanic nationals and their Mestizo maids, and wandering ex-patriot hippy types. The mix has led to a strange conglomeration of businesses and functions among the incredible crumbling facades of the town's colonial architecture.
prime for analysis:
The huge white-washed 17th century mansions and churches in various states of demise are fitting symbols for a declining colonial mentality and its tarnished dreams. This town was thrice struck by earthquakes; as a result the grand cathedrals, arches, and administrative buildings of the old Spanish empire now stand (sort of), often roofless, the walls reaching up but supporting only the blue sky, huge gaping cracks in the mortar echoing the global geology of tectonic plates.
and I've been thinking about Rigoberta Menchu
On Saturdays and Sundays there are Porches and Mercedes parked in
it's all here
Like some microcosmic this-is-what-you-get abridged version of
There have, of course, been many colourful moments I will cherish in the midst of my learning and my struggle to understand (and I will probably bore people over and over with the details of them if I ever decide to come “home”). BUT, I figure, if I limit myself to one in-depth story for each letter, I won't be repeating myself too much upon my return. --and each day I'm off and rambling, I should get perhaps only one "Shut up Gayle, I've already heard it" to my credit.
...keeping me reminded of the perils of tediousness
for Trisha Morgan's second missive:
The Story of the
The morning seemed to dawn pretty enuf. We're on the
The atmosphere seemed perfect since neither Jeff nor I have sentimental memories of
Our Garifuna plan was to be an exorcism of all that.
...and it was. Tho not for the reasons we anticipated. First there was the rain. A tropical storm. The water coming down so thick you couldn't see five feet in front of you. & us caught about 30 minutes into a 45 minute walk, without umbrellas or jackets. I show up in this relatively isolated village of thatch huts in a dress that has turned transparent (no bra), and both of us with our hair plastered to our heads like drowned rats. We sit at the first place we come to, Jeff without a shirt cuz I need something to provide modesty. We drink a beer and watch the Grinch in Spanish as it plays from an old black and white TV. (No shit: The Grinch dubbed! And this is one of the few establishments that has electricity.) But the owners aren't exactly thrilled with our bohemian lack of respect for a special occasion; they're not directing us any smiles of welcome. So, almost dry, I give Jeff back his shirt and we move on to another house: an even smaller hut where a group of eight men as piss-drunk as you can get and still be standing, are having a great time playing traditional conch shell music and singing ballads. We sit and order our chowder, and this time they are very friendly. They're all members of one family. The father is the drunkest of all, a big kneed wrinkle-wizened man who looks like he's lived hard all his life. But he knows the best stories. And he's the one to lead the songs. Can't quite tell if the ballads are bawdy or brave, but I make a few words out, like amore and cervessa and rum. And we are grabbing attention with a couple of the unmarried boys who brave Jeff's largeness in light of his friendly smile; they come over to flirt with me, to practice their English and to teach us the local names for the pieces of seafood in our bowls. They giggle at my mispronunciation, and the giggling is catchy. Nefore we leave, they offer us their
On the way back to Tela, feeling warm and dangerous, Jeff and I go skinny dipping and make love in the worried waters of post-storm
Okay, I've babbled away another 4 double sided pages. And you, having your comps to study for: as if you don't have enuf to read. I hope everything is going well. Can't say I miss the academy much, but there are times when I wouldn't mind a little literary chat over red wine and well aged cheese... you know with a good friend... like the one who's protecting my library for me as I play hooky.