As we begin packing and prepare to depart Guatemala we have discussed and reflected on the country that has been our home for the last month. What seemed so different and foreign upon arriving here less than 30 days ago has become familiar and comforting. We have adjusted and acclimated in a short time. Even our Spanish has improved. We wrote down a number of things we noticed and have come to appreciate (well, except for #7, maybe) while living in Guatemala for one month. If you ever visit Guatemala these are things you can expect to encounter and you may appreciate as well:
- Recycling- (David) I’m not talking about separating plastic bottles, cans and newspapers into the blue bin. I mean honest-to-goodness reuse of “trash”, or at least what we Americans from the US call “trash”. Cars, buses, sheet metal, any old metal, drift wood, scraps of wood, whatever… Here in Guatemala if there is a way to derive some use, any kind of use, out of anything – it is done. I’ve seen (and cooked on) a charcoal grill made from scrap auto wheel. I’ve seen walls in buildings and around schools constructed from recycled plastic bottles – stuffed, stacked and covered with stucco. The regular mode of public transportation here is salvaged US school buses that were ordered out of commission. Refurbished under the hood and all over – these beautiful “chicken buses” not only function but are rolling works of art. Houses are constructed from leftover materials and artists create beautiful works from things you would send to the dump. Waste not – want not, remember?
- Lovers/PDA – (David and Anne) OK, this is a little different. At first I was a little taken aback. Now, I’m accustomed. After all, what’s the harm? Love is in the air… in Guatemala. You will see couples, strolling the streets,holding hands and kissing, or displaying much more PDA than you typically see in the US. Seems you can hardly pass a park bench, street corner, or parked car without encountering two amorous youngsters flagrantly professing their affections in a physical way. There have not been enough discipline slips created in the history of US high schools to make a dent in the “face-sucking” that occurs on a typical evening in Antigua, Guatemala. And these kids do it with style. People in Guatemala often live with many family members under one roof. Houses are small with no communal space to hang out. Young lovers often court each other in the many public parks and local tourism centers as they have benches and nice views for little to no cost. We all love to see them kiss to the side as they still watch what is happening on the street! Or be so caught up in the moment as they walk – that they walk right into a parked car or street sign. It makes for good entertainment once you get used to it!
- Transportation – (Laney and Lee) The transportation in Guatemala is interesting. Horses with carriages are walking around. Motorcycles, scooters and bikes speed by you as you walk down the streets or crowded sidewalks. Tuk-tuks chug by and the colorful interesting chicken busses race to the next stop. They are especially interesting because they all look different and have different names painted on them. They are called chicken buses because people load all kinds of stuff on them and sometimes actually put live chickens on the roof. They are old school buses from the US decorated with paint, chrome, and lights. They speed past each other and almost kill you trying pick up more people! We have walked most places, crammed into a tuk-tuk when it was raining, and we have even taken a chicken bus ride.
- Guatemala Old Dudes – (David) AKA Hombres Viejo. These guys have a certain style and class that I find compelling. In fact, I’ve snapped a few photos. Sharply dressed with pressed long sleeve shirts (neatly rolled in the heat), jeans, fancy belt buckles and cowboy hats – these cabelleros have a certain Clint Eastood aura. The weathered lines in their faces and the lively glint in their eyes, doesn’t hurt. Additionally, in some places they wear special stylized outfits that communicate where they are from. In Santiago de Atitlan for example – the men wear striped and decorated patalones that are close to Bermuda shorts but with considerable more flair.
- Markets – (Anne) The markets are a place to get everything you need from fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, clothes, personal items and movies. They are a maze of stalls and walkways with ladies who sit for hours on their knees selling tortillas or men selling rope and tools or soccer jerseys. Hardwork, bartering and hustling is the name of the game here. Messi and FC Barcelona is extremely popular. Interesting that in the US the farmers market has made a come back. Such an old concept that we got away from.
- Volcanoes – (David) not just pointy things that sit there looking like mountains called volcanoes, I mean frickin’ ERUPTING volcanoes. Evacuate the townsfolk, ash is billowing up in the air, “are we all gonna die?” VOLCANOES! 2 days after we arrived – I saw some smoke puffs. The US Government sent me an emergency email. 10 days later this volcano (called Volcano of Fire) blows ash and lava thousands of meters into the air and tens of thousands of people have to leave their homes. If your country is going to have volcanoes – do it right, like Guatemala. Not Pompei, but no lame dormant hill trying to pass.
- Guns – (Lee) At the grocery store, at the bank, at stores, at restaurants, at parks, at gas stations there are policemen and security guards with big guns. BIG GUNS. They have shotguns, machine guns, and rifles. It is cool, but kinda scary.
- Phones- (Laney) In the US it feels like everyone has an IPhone. Here so many stores don’t even sell them. The only phones they sell are flip phones and nothing close to the smart phones all over the United States. Everyone still has a phone.
- Uniforms – (Anne) I grew up wearing uniforms in my private schools. I used to not like them. Uniforms are a constant debate at my children’s school. In Guatemala I find I adore the school uniforms! The children are recognizable in their school colors. They look neat and tasteful. Many families still wear traditional Mayan clothing, others are more influenced by western clothing, and economic hardships take a severe toll on what children have to wear. Uniforms become the great equalizer here and it seems to work. As a side note, most schools are in two shifts so children can help with their family businesses. Many children weave, sell, or cook everyday. The go to school from 7-1 or 1-6 depending on their school shift.
- Guatemala babies – (David) Alright, all babies are cute, but I swear, these babies are especially cute. I mean REALLY, REALLY CUTE! Everywhere you go Guatemalan mamas are carrying Guatemalan babies – typically in little swaddled papooses on their bellies or on their backs. And every time I look, peeking out is the cutest little baby you have ever seen. Dark eyes, dark hair, brown cheeks and smiling. This is country that is stricken with serious poverty – but you routinely see clean, healthy, well-dressed babies that are clearly a recognized precious resource in this country.
- Walking – (Anne) Having a car is a luxury here and obviously we don’t have our own car. Walking is the primary mode of transportation for most people. Everything is in walking distance. Huffing it becomes a way of life and changes the way I think. I take a bag to the store and buy what I need and only that as I have to carry it home. Makes me more aware of what I buy. I’m in better shape. I know my neighbors. It makes for an active and vibrant community.
- Weather – (Anne) The weather here is close to perfect almost all the time. Warm days with cool nights. It makes for the richest flora and fauna I have ever seen. I generally consider myself an animal person and rarely appreciate plants but this place truly makes you stop and smell the roses. The plants are so amazing, different, and fascinating!
- Hospitality – (Anne) The people in Guatemala are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. We have been invited into people’s homes for dinner, been bought drinks, and offered friendship and kindness at every turn. The people in the shops and streets are kind and friendly. Our friends Delia and Victor and their family have been fabulous and made Guatemala feel like a homecoming. Alfredo has driven us all over the countryside and neighboring towns so we could see the “real” Guatemala. We’ve met travelers like Freddy from Canada with a life story and words of wisdom to live by, the mission group from the world race, http://www.theworldrace.org/, and Lorenzo, the retired US firefighter, who now owns a macadamia farm and told us we could call him day or night if we needed anything. These are just a few who make traveling here special.
Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the challenges.
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