Bulls have no sense of humour

Guatemala Travel Blog

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E-Journal of an Aging Hippie/

Bulls have no sense of humour/


 Xela, the market town in the western highlands of Guatemala where I am studying Spanish, is just beginning to stir when I head out of my hostel to meet fellow classmates for a day trip to the local hot springs.

The entourage itself is worth a mention: Giselle, 29, our pregnant Spanish teacher arrives for the outing late, exhausted, and pale from morning sickness.

Christian, 34, is punctual. He is, after all, Swiss. He's resting for a couple of weeks in Guatemala before resuming his 24,000-km bike trip from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America.

And the fourth member of the motley group is Oliver, 42, a German- born television producer who lives in Hollywood, Calif., and sells celebrity interviews to German and French networks. He likes Canadians but has a grudge against Canadian horses. While filming near Toronto a few years ago, a horse almost killed his cameraman.

By 7:30 a. m. we are all loaded into a passing "chicken bus," an old, yellow school bus packed with indigenous farmers and baskets of produce, all en route to Xela's market.

The chicken bus drops us at the bottom of a mountain where pickup trucks are waiting.

Queasy Giselle gets into the cab of a pick-up truck and the rest of us have no choice but to climb into the back.

The morning is chilly -about 8 C - but it doesn't take long for the bright sun to warm us and to light up the neatly-terraced fields where indigenous farmers are already working.

Some are planting their steep fields while others are harvesting cabbage, onions, radishes, potatoes, corn and broccoli for market. At the outset of our ascent up the mountain, the paved road seems decent enough but within 10 minutes it is so narrow that two vehicles can scarcely pass.

Making matters worse, recent rains have carved big crevices into the side of the road, making it easy to imagine our little pick-up catching a back wheel and plunging down the mountain.

But our impatient, young driver is oblivious to any such danger and speeds forward.

From the back of the pick-up, I suddenly spot trouble ahead. A truck heavily loaded with cabbage is coming straight towards us. And between us and the oncoming truck are two cows and a Holstein bull, tethered at the side of the narrow road.

Thankfully, both trucks slow to almost a stop, squeezing past each other with only inches to spare. However, the Holstein bull is not amused by the manoeuvre and gives the front fender of our pick-up a good butt.

We all howl with laughter. Undeterred by the commotion, the bull gives his great head a shake and resumes his grazing with a new air of satisfaction.

Higher and higher, our truck climbs until we are enveloped in a cold, dense fog which our driver also ignores with impunity. Somehow, he manages to deliver us safely to our destination -Fuentes Georginas hot springs.

Shivering from the cold ride, my fingers are numb from gripping the truck railings so tightly.

But it is not long before the steaming waters of the hot springs restore me to life. These ancient springs are relaxing and quiet.

Getting a little peckish, Oliver discovers that the little cafe near the hot springs serves mugs of rich hot chocolate, made from the real thing, and big plates of French fries. Can life get any better?

As we crowd around a small table sipping our hot chocolate, we forget that in two hours our young driver will be back and once again we will be tearing down the mountain holding on for dear life.

Let's hope that ornery Guatemalan bull doesn't hold a grudge.

Hasta luego!

Carol Franks grew up on the family farm near Peterborough, Canada. A former journalist, teacher and innkeeper, Franks currently spends winters in Nicaragua, Central America, where she is a volunteer English teacher and student of Spanish. Together with the Fowler's Corners and District Lions Club, she is raising money to buy textbooks for her students. You can join the effort on-line at www.sjdsbiblioteca.orgor send a cheque, made out to Textbooks for Nicaragua, to the Fowler's Corners and District Lions Club, P. O. Box 8613, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, K9J 6X3. In the fall of 2007, Franks studied Spanish in Western Guatemala



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