Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A conversation and the return

The taxi cab driver who took me to the Cancun airport yesterday spoke to me the whole way--in Spanish--and I understood most of what he said. He worked pouring concrete in Oregon and wishes he could return. Now he works seven days a week driving a taxi in a town with cheap and convenient bus service. He bemoans the drugs and alcohol problems that he feels are impacting the young people of his country. He feels there is little justice in this world for a hardworking man like him.

So I tipped him an extra $5. Perhaps that was his ploy, the whole purpose of his speech. But I enjoyed listening to him. I wished afterward that I had remembered the right form of the past tense of "venir (to come)" and instead of saying "I went here from Guatemala" I had said "I came here from Guatemala." But hell, at least I used the past tense. And he seemed to understand. I guess that is progress.

Then I boarded a plane. And when I reached Denver the air was freezing cold, and it finally felt to me like Christmas is coming. And the faces and hugs of friends and family are better than even the most unexpected kindness from strangers. And I am surprised that I find comfort in the material things about America I thought I didn't need--well-insulated homes with warm blankets and high-speed Internet access that is actually fast and a Walgreens on the corner that is brightly lit and has everything you could possibly need on a cold night as you arrive, weary from a long day of traveling.

It feels good to be home.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Burning Devils and Overnight Buses

On the seventh of December there is another Guatemalan tradition that mixes the pagan with the Christian traditions. . . everyone burns devils and trash in the streets in order to cleanse their homes and souls in preparation for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. In Antigua, the location they selected for this ritual is on a street between the town´s only two gas stations. I am hoping it is because of a keen sense of irony and not a desire to blow up the beautiful colonial city.

I was in Guatemala City for the celebration. We bought the devil pinata and burned it outside the bus station in Zone 1 prior to boarding a 10:3o overnight bus to Flores. The overnight bus seems like such a good idea in theory--you save on lodging for a night AND you awake magically transported to your destination, ready for action in the day.

That is just in theory, however. Steve St. John (my New Mexican traveling partner who also happens to be a professional photographer) and I experienced a slightly different version: the man sitting across the isle from us slept so soundly that he snored quite audibly, even through my ear plugs. The seat behind us had two men and a 11-year-old boy who slept partly on their side but with appendages spilling over on to unsuspecting heads. The bus stopped at least three times: bathroom break, police checkpoint, and to put out a fire that was apparently burning somewhere in the vicinity of the engine.

It wasn´t a dull trip, at least. So we arrived today in Flores (in the department of Peten in Northern Guate), bleary-eyed and disoriented. But the beds in the Los Amigos hostel are comfy, the day is ours to do with as we please, and tomorrow we conquer Tikal, the capital of the Mayan ruins of Guatemala. (And possibly the capital of tourism as well. . . )