"Does it say slavery?"

Aruba Travel Blog

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"Does it say slavery?"

Aruba’s first world finery is two worlds ahead of Central American anything, the disparate locales linked only by gargantuan tropical fruit, each home to freakish papayas larger than any infant not scion of Shaq. And, I guess, relaxed standards of public toileting: exploring Aruba we passed a cute, naked three-year-old girl, standing on the side of the road, hands on her hips, pelvis thrust slightly forward, almost sassily, like a professional model at practice, at first glance presumably peeing, actually taking a standing dump.

Aruba is almost perfect: sweaty weather and turquoise seas; unlimited drink-and-eat access spanning a ½ mile of beachfront resorts (“Yes, I need six White Russians made with Stoli, and fourteen of the seared tuna appetizer. Make it snappy and you might land two Washingtons.”), including dietary essentials lacking in my Central American diet: vegetables, protein, and soft-serve ice cream; big screen TVs with multiple sports and movie channels; and my beloved parents and brother, aunt, uncle, cousins and a boyfriend. The only imperfection in the fantasy for our trio of single twenty-somethings is that were not twelve, the Divi All Inclusive crawling with families toting preteen princesses but nothing legal for us, even by possibly permissive Aruban standards. We’ll see how many days and drinks it takes to transform sun-wrinkled, pudge-bellied tourist moms into eye candy.

The last few days in Guatemala leading up to Aruba saw changes of scenery. There was a shuttle bus connection to Chichicastenango’s sprawling Sunday market, a massive, tourist marketed maze of vendors selling some essentials and many more lengths of intricately patterned fabrics and traditional clothing, bags and crafts, all fashioned by impoverished hands and all accompanied by the same shouted encouragement to purchase (which is the official phrase of Chichi and, traditionally, the first phrase spoken by infants): “¡Buen precio!” The competition between vendors and the necessity of feeding one’s family make Chichi a bizarro eBay, sellers undercutting each other's already low prices to win access to tourist wallets. The ride to Chichi also featured an incomprehensibly heavily guarded checkpoint, randomly placed on a mountain road, at which an armed man among many threw open the sliding van door, bent at the waist until his head was even and parallel with the floor, and demanded, while his eyes scanned beneath seats, “Algunas frutas?” Not drugs. Not weapons. Not children we might be smuggling for international slave trade. Grapes. And if you don’t give 'em up, you’re gonna need ‘em to plug the holes in your chest.

After Chichi I spent a final night in San Pedro La Laguna, enjoying as usual the variety of death metal shirts international aid services have distributed in hyper-religious countries, leaving legions of young men oblivious to the irony of their satanic Sunday’s finest. And after a brutal four-hour chicken bus ride across unpaved Guatemala highway and mountain passes -- the driver testing every bolt in the bus’ construction by hitting every meteoric-crater-sized “pothole,” enduring a lengthy sermon from one of the all-too-common obviously mentally tortured travel-preachers, always exhibiting at least one serious physical defect as well, who suddenly stand up in the middle of a packed bus, holding a bible in one hand and an overhead rail in the other, arching their backs and embarking on an animated screech fest, “Jeeeeeeeeesus Chriiiiiisto!” – I made it to Guate, La Capital, where, again, thanks to international aid, it’s not unlikely to be robbed by a thug wearing a neon-colored Looney Tunes hoodie.

For a family friend’s thoughtfulness and her friends in Guatemala, I landed in the generous care of Guatemalan elite, living in an every way modern and first world palace just outside the city. My bags were carried and my meals prepared by the live-in family of house- and groundskeepers. The huge garden- and tree-filled property is surrounded by a military-grade brick wall topped with razor wire, five or six massive, trained attack dogs prowling the premises at night. In order to keep my throat from resembling a platter of pulled pork bathed in tomato sauce, I wasn’t allowed out of the house once the roaming killers were released for the night.

La Capital is unlike rural Guatemala, it is modern, marred by US fastfood, marked with malls and at least one Hooters too, and the people, on average, stand taller than my waist. I indulged in Guatemala’s most popular street eats, pollo frito y papas fritas, at the ubiquitous Pollo Campero chain. And I drained a few hot mugs of homemade Atol de Elote, a delicacy with the color and consistency of snot from a winter cold, spotted with bits of corn kernels, a liquid version of Pan de Elote. I toured the city with a family friend, Eddy, and enjoyed sights like El Mapa en Relieve, Plaza Mayor de la Constitución, a museum documenting and displaying historical artifacts and another tracing the history and evolution of ropa tìpica.

Then I flew away, but not before tormenting everyone in my smell radius at the Guatemala City airport’s security checkpoint (and again in Miami) when I had to remove my one well-past-well-used pair of all-purpose sneakers. (For the benefit of everyone I have encountered since, I succeeded in washing my well-exercised, sweat-stiffened wardrobe here in Aruba, the first wash in a month.) Family fun commenced immediately upon reuniting in Miami International Airport, the extended family waiting for the same connection to Aruba. As reports were breaking about the outbreak of coordinated and deadly terrorist attacks in India, CNN was reporting the rather unnewsworthy in a bottom-scrolling text bar: “President Elect Obama Condemns the Attacks.” Kerry, Tony, and I exchanged “No shit” glances and discussed headlines that would actually be newsworthy: “President Elect Obama claims responsibility for the terrorist attacks!”

On the flight to Aruba, while we were filling out our immigration cards, my cousin Tony and I wondered aloud where the “Slavery” checkbox was located in the “Purpose of Visit” section, our stated purpose finding a Venezuelan slave trader interested in purchasing my brother. My cousin Lindsey, in one of those classic lapses of thought everyone -- save the blessed mute -- experiences from time to time to the delight of anyone in earshot, asked, quite concerned, “Does it say slavery?”

Since landing, we’ve enjoyed sun, sand, snorkeling, and, for the three young-lads searching for an elixir to induce hallucinations halving or quartering the age of drunk tourist moms and grandmas dance-lurching as nightly entertainment, a horrible day-after blackout, for me a Top 20 all-time hangover that even endless bowls of soft serve burying mounds of chocolate cake couldn’t cure. As reported by my aunt and uncle with whom I reportedly shared a lost conversation -- while awaiting a pizza and panini I’d ordered in a fit of B.A.C. overwhelming consideration for my stomach’s next-morning wellbeing -- a few minutes into our exchange I suddenly raised a hand to my lips and began poking and tracing the flesh, slurring, “Are my lips moving? Can you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” Meanwhile Kerry milled around, holding two drink cups in one hand, one upright and filled, the other parallel to the ground, empty. All this after an impressive day of productivity and exercise and avoiding the bar; I'd remained alcohol-free and vegetable-full until 8pm, yet I was unconscious and bloated on greasy junkfood by midnight. I blame it on SoCo and lime. I'd ordered two Soco and limes and two White Russians for me and Kerry to share, and when the bartender asked if we'd like ice in our SoCo and limes, of course I replied no. Who puts an ice cube in a shot glass? When he returned with two cups filled with warm SoCo and a wedge of lime hanging from each rim, I realized I'd missed obvious clues.

I’ve only been quick and sober enough to document a few of the hilarious conversations and exchanges in my omnipresent pocket notepad, like my mom’s description of the daily lives of scallops: “They go around clappin’ their clams.” And her imaginative extension of logic, concerned because my father hadn’t informed the credit card company he would be vacationing in Aruba: “They’re going to call the house (to verify a foreign purchase), nobody will answer, and they’re gonna think we’re stabbed.” Or when Tony and I argued age-appropriateness in the pursuit of females, Tony claiming he, being twenty-one and three years younger than me, is subject to different basements and ceilings in target ages; I countered with typical sleaze, adamant we share the same basement and ceiling ages, coining my new mantra in the process: “Eighteen to the grave.”

Como siempre, time with my family is absolutely priceless. Now back to Guatemala, enjoying my occupational travel and Spanish language acquisition, counting the days until the next reunion.
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