Dear Whitesox fans, followers of Kool Keith, and all other members of the Posse,
I have returned to the Chi, and the reverse culture shock has dwindled to a mere afterthought. I have returned to my American ways of eating McDonalds, watching Jerry Springer, and I might even purchase a dreaded cellphone (NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!). I guess I will tell you all how my journey ended up, as I left you in the rain filled jungles of Chiapas and was entering the world of chicken buses in Guatemala. So here are some general notes…………..
Jade Museums, rain, wet shoes, more wookies that smelled like patchouli oil, more rain, wet books, the Sunidero Canyon, the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque…….
.in the rain, a girl from Pilsen that won a juke contest in Cicero….represent, lots of Dutch people, a boat to a very rustic “border” between Guatemala and Mexico, a cool hostel on a lake in Guatemala, the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal…..without rain, but in a scary jungle, a cool hostel on a river in Guatemala, some very cool Americans and a Canuck, toobing on a river, a giant Jenga, an attack by the Chupacabra, spelunking in caves, hanging out in the pools of Semuc Champey, Trivial Pursuit challenges, cervesas, but not a lot of dancing, some damn good chicken, Jurassic Park 2 and 3, a hike to a top of a volcano with lava, a coffee plantation, the suburbs of Miami, some sickness, and a bout of laziness at the end, perhaps homesickness.
Guatemala is what I would call a poor mans Costa Rica. It has all of the natural beauty of Costa Rica with the mountains, lakes, volcanoes, rivers, rain forests, and animals.
Lanquin Hostel - Fantastic!
It has numerous fascinating and ancient Mayan cities, which Costa Rica does not have. However it does not have the great beaches that Costa Rica does have. The whole 30 year civil war thing fucked the country up. They lack the infrastructure in terms of roads and sufficient buses. In Mexico, if you want to get to 2 semi major cities, you simply buy a direct ticket that day and go. In Guatemala, you purchase about 3 different tickets and transfer buses numerous times to get from A to B while traveling on numerous dirt roads. I heard numerous rumors of muggings, stolen bags, and kidnappings on the buses of Guatemala, but did not encounter any of these misfortunes in person.
In Guatemala I took what I will refer to as the “Gringo Trail.” I went from Flores (for Tikal), to Lanquin (for Semuc Champey), to Antigua (the town of Gringo Paradise), to Guatemala City.
Yeah, I saw a lot in
Guatemala, and had a blast; however I did not really attempt to get out of the element in order to truly encounter Guatemalan culture. I stayed at hostels and hung out with other foreign travelers were English dominated the conversation. Usually on my travels I will at least attempt to hang out with Latinos in the hostels. Returning to the Costa Rica analogy, I felt like a US tourist that goes to Costa Rica. I saw a lot of the great sights, I had fun partying, I “helped Guatemala by delivering my tourist dollar,” and I could easily return home
to the states saying “Guatemala is awesome!”
But the fact is that I really do not know the true Guatemala because of how I traveled (which is OK).
Semuc Champey from above.
When I finally got to Guatemala City, and explored a little on my own, I had a feeling of regret as I had not gone out of my way in an attempt to try and truly learn about the culture. I even left the country with the ultimate sign of being a gringo à I paid the taxi driver in dollars as I exited the country. Interesting thing is that the Taxi Driver used to live in my neighborhood, Rogers Park. He had the whole American Dream thing going, with a small drywall business and all. The dream crashed on him as he got 3 D.U.I.s and was deported. Ohh well, that’s traveling for you.
The one time I did truly go and explore Guatemalan culture, it was all about sharing a common love……….
fried chicken. I have been a serious chicken connoisseur since growing from a 157 pound wrestler to a near 200 pound beast/slob in the last 6 years. I have tried them all, from KFC to Popeye’s to Churches to Harold’s Chicken Shack # 54 (represent)to Uncle Remuse's to Bo Jangles…….It was now time to take on the Guatemalan fried chicken powerhouse à Pollo Campero. In a rare act of reverse globalization, Pollo Campero is actually starting to infiltrate the United States. Beware Americans, beware, this is some mean chicken……damn good and spicy. It will take over; it might even take out Harold’s.
Do you remember those Mountain Dew commercials from the late 80s/early 90s? You know, the ones where all the dudes and chicks are jumping off of bridges in ripped jean shorts, or toobing down rivers and such.
Well, that is how I felt at this hostel in Lanquin, Guatemala. A picturesque backdrop with a river nestled between the mountains and the hostel perfectly situated on the banks. It only cost about 5 bucks a night. Chillin in hammocks, riverboarding, toobin on the river, jumpin off of bridges, and intense battles of trivial pursuit and jenga dominated my time there. It sounds like paradise, correct. However it was at this location that I had one of my most fearful encounters in all of my travels in Latin America. My first evening at Lanquin, the hostel (El Retiro) was all booked up, so I found a different hostel down the road. I did spend my evening partying at el retiro, and when it was time for bed, I began my journey back to my room down the
road. A wookie stole my flashlight in Mexico, so I was using a candle to guide myself
back. I wandered down the road in the pitch black, and I could not find the path for my room. I found
another path and wandered about guided by my candle.
I came across clothes lines, spiderwebs, and strange jungle noises. My candle went out, and there I was, in a path in the jungle, the gringo wandering around in someone’s backyard, looking for my hostel room. I couldn’t help but think of 30 years ago, during the civil war in Guatemala. How would a stranger be taken at the wee hours of the night wandering around someone’s house? Perhaps a machete to the head. I began to use the stars for navigation, and veered down another path. I heard a strange noise, like a dinosaur shriek. The bushes ruffled, and something moved out of the corner of my eye.
This is where I came across the dreaded Chupacabra, the legendary blood sucker of Latin America. The Chupacabra looked at me strange and dangerously.
“Aye Gringo, you are lost I see.”
With tears in my eyes, and full of fright I replied “Yea man, I from the city, and I am used to like lights and roads and sidewalks, guey!”
“Haaaaahaaahhaaaaahhaaaa” was the evil sinister laugh that protruded from the mouth of the vile
“This shit isn’t funny man, I am from Chicago, and I am not used to this country
“Aye Gringo, I will direct you out, but only if you can answer one of my questions
of human testament. If you fail, I will kill you.”
With nothing to lose I accepted the Chupacabra's challenge.
“Aye, Gringo, who was the coach of the 1985 Chicago Bears?”
asked the Chupacabra.
“Iron Mike Ditka” I replied. The chupacabra pulled out a lighter, lit my candle, and informed me that my hostel erected a barbed wire gate after to keep intruders out. If I searched well, perhaps I would find the entrance. After that he disappeared into the night. I located the gate 1 hour later.
The lack of safety measures taken as I swam one kilometer into a cave by candle light and walked next to molten lava was something else.
I am used to the lack of safety measures in developing countries on my travels, but these two tours were something else. There has got to be a number of people that died or were seriously injured on these tours. However, I would do each tour again. The cave thing in Semuc Champey
was the coolest tour I have ever done in my life. And remember, I worked on a cruise ship for a year, and used to get all sorts of tours for free. Dangerous, but I highly recommend.
Guatemalan Spanish and mannerisms are more reserved, tranquil, and proper than some of their Central American counterparts. The few times that I did speak Spanish in Guatemala, I had to make an extra effort I did not insert any offending remarks (guey).
I did have an encounter with a cockroach crawling on me in a bed at night.
However, that was in my $70 a night hotel room in Miami. Those $5 a night places in Latin America did not have those problems.
Other notes on
Mexico that I forgot to put in the last letter cause I am a big dummy.
The geography of Mexico gradually changes from a semi desert mountainous area around Mexico
City and such, to a rain forest mountainous area in Chiapas down into Guatemala. Rain and humidity dominate life. This is the reason that Mayan culture has continued to consistently survive, as it took the Spaniards the longest time to truly conquer the Yucatan and Chiapas due to the rain and the rain forest. It is almost
inhospitable in parts. The Mayans were able to keep their language, religion (see previous letter),
and other customs due to this.It pours every day. It made me, and everything that I had very wet.
The 36 mile bike trip through the valleys of Oaxaca was something else. It was one of those things were I felt like I was in a time warp. I encountered peoples weaving clothes from scratch without machines, I saw people making bricks from scratch without machines, and I saw dudes plowing fields the old fashioned way, with oxen, and without machines. Interesting stuff, but also very tiring.
I could have just crossed the border from Mexico to Guatemala without anything happening. I did need a boat to take across, but aside from that, nobody would have noticed at all if I didn’t get my passport stamped. From the border we boarded a bus that took us down a dirt road for 2 hours. This was the only border crossing between the 2 countries for like 4 hours. I would think that the road would be paved.
The wookies struck again, this time in Chicago. I returned to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Chicago, and the Gi, or required uniform, or whatever you want to call it, smelled like patchouli oil. You see, wookies need to spray this nasty stuff and light incense all over the place in order to cover up their stank ass odor. Some how this seeps into my bag, and infiltrated my clothes 2 weeks after the matter.
So I am back in the Chi, and if you want to hang out, call me up. If you want to
see photos, you have to come up to Rogers Park (I could put them on the web, but I like the old fashioned way) and I will show you.
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