Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stories from Guatemala

A few things I want to write about. They are not chronological. I didn't have time to proofread, either.

*I forfeited watching the sun rise of the pyramids of Tikal this morning (and paying $35 for it) in order to take a hot shower. I'm in the northern part of Guatemala at the ruins of Tikal. There are only three hotels in the 122 square mile park, and I forked over $40 to have my own hotel room and my own private bath with, yes, hot water in the morning from 6 am to 9 am. Forty dollars here is more than I usually spend in a day, sometimes two. My favorite hostals have only cost $4 a night. So I am living in luxury for a day. I had a fresh strawberry milkshake with my dinner last night.

*A few days ago, I was dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere at a hostal with no internet and no hot water either. We had electricity from 6 to 10 at night in a little open air pavilion with tables around it where we all ate dinner together. Afterward, we danced salsa in the middle with the guys who worked there. During the day we swam in a series of limestone pools that drop into one another or we went into caves holding candles that we had to hold above the water while we swam from room to room. I came down with a little bit of a cold and stayed an extra day.

*Last week, I was in Xela, a supposedly "European" city surrounded by volcanoes, but really it was full of exhaust and trash. I didn't like it, and it was really spoiled for me when, in the middle of the day on a busy street, a man came up behind me and put both his arms around me tightly, like he knew me. He wasn't drunk and he didn't grab my small backpack I was carrying. I think he was just fucking with me. I pushed him off of me, yelling at him. It sucked. I've lived in Oakland, I've lived in bad neighborhoods of San Francisco. I know how not to get my wallet stolen, how to live in a neighborhood alongside drug dealers and prostitutes, and how to say "no" to an aggressive beggar, but I felt like a target in Xela. I left early. I felt like it was a matter of time before something fucked-up happened to me there. I liked leaving.

*Guatemala makes me feel like I work for OSHA. I am constantly thinking "that is dangerous!" My grandpa would have had a field day here pointing out all of the dangers. I, too, want to put handrails everywhere. I stood on the edge of a very very very steep temple this morning, 1000 feet up, and could have easily fallen to my death. Last week I climbed an active volcano. People roasted marshmallows over the open coals. Big hot rocks were tumbling down the mountain a few feet from us. Chicken buses take turns so sharply they go up on two wheels. Let's go jump off this slippery cliff into the water!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have not written for months because, well, I didn't feel like it. This field has been lying fallow. Now I am in Guatemala on a six week trip through the country, and I feel like writing again. Here we are. Here are some things I want to tell you, somebody, anybody:

*Guatemalans get around on old US school buses that have been painted bright colors and christened with names like "Gracias A Dios" which are painted above the front window. The drivers play loud reggaeton and drive them much much much faster than Mr. Stackhouse (my old busdriver) ever did. Most of the riders on the bus are Mayan women who carry large bundles on their heads.

*How cool is it that there is a country where the majority of the population wears its traditional dress? Seriously. How cool is that? The indigenous population wins my World's Best Dressed award. None of these folks are intentionally or inadvertently wearing some some trickle-down runway fashion from a few years ago. When a Mayan wears a poncho, it's because her mama and grandmama and great-grandma did, and because she probably wove the cloth herself! And to make things even cooler, each region and town has its own particular design that they weave so families wear similar outfits, like the Scotish used to do with their tartans in the olden days. Everyone looks great, too. There is little better in the world than a 4-foot tall, seventy-year old woman in pigtails. Mostly women wear the traditional dress, but I have seen a few men wearing hot pink woven trousers and vest with gold thread. Google it. I like riding the "chicken buses" because I can check out the variety of cool outfits. If it weren't insulting for a Gringa to wear Mayan clothes, I'd definitely sport a huipul.

*As much as I like checking out the Mayans's suave outfits, Mayan kids like ogling my lip piercing. First they look at me out of curiosity, but when they notice the fake diamond on my lip, they all look shocked. They tug on their Mom's skirt and point. I never stare back, but I do keep my face turned in their direction just to let them get a good look.

*Yesterday I began my Spanish lessons. I'm staying in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, with a Guatemalan woman in her seventies and her daughter and three grandsons. Gloria feeds me well and is insulted that I only ate three pancakes for breakfast. Today I am going to my first ever yoga class in Spanish. Yesterday I bought three copies of Cosmopolitan en EspaƱol from the mid-1990s at a used bookstore. Eventhough my Spanish isn't good enough to really understand exactly what the article is saying, since all women's magazines basically just recycle stories every six months, I understand a lot more than I would otherwise. I can't really bring them in to school though, since I'd feel a little uncomfortable asking my (male) teacher to help me translate "Six Sex Secrets You Really Need to Know."