Saturday, March 18, 2006

I'm sitting on a balcony overlooking the courtyard f our Antigua hotel. Early morning light, lots of vines and flowers. Scott and pretty much everyone else around here is still asleep. Munching on some of the amazing banana bread we bought yesterday afternoon, hot out of the oven.

Thursday - The Day of the Amazing 3 AM Pee
Thursday was neat because it began and ended with extremely gracious hospitality offered by 2 completely different families.

The day began at 3am when Scott got up to go to the bathroom. I had to go to but was more interested in holding off until our 5 am alarm than leaving the semi-warmth of the bed for a chilly trip outside to the outhouse. But Scott told me it was pretty outside and not that cold, and so I had the most beautiful nocturnal urination ever. There was a full moon illuminating everything (definitely no need for a flashlight) and lots of stars, and it was completely quiet. No hum of traffic, no running water, no people walking around, no roosters crowing, not even any wind blowing. It was almost like being in an old black-and-white photograph.
When I got back inside, Alfonso's grandmother was up. I'm not sure if she was starting to cook or was just getting the cooking fire started. I went back to sleep for a few more hours as other people in the house gradually woke up and got their days started. We had breakfast around 6 - more cak'ik, the special spicy chicken soup that we had eaten for lunch and dinner the day before. After expressing our thanks and saying our good-byes, Alfonso took us back down the mountain. it was a 2-hour hike down to where we would catch a ride into town. Part of the path we were on took us through a really spectacular cloud forest Ancient moss-covered trees, giant ferns, ropy vines, veritable jaguar territory. It was just like something you'd see in Jurassic Park or King Kong... but not cheesy. Just beautiful.
Eventually we got to the village whose name I forget and were pleased to see that a microbus with padded seats and only a few passengers would be taking us to Carcha. On the way up 2 days before, we rode in the back of a big truck, crammed in among locals. It was fun in an adventuresome sort of way, and if you're going to be packed in with a bunch of people it's nicer for it to be in open air than in a sun-baked school bus... but it was still a pretty rough ride. During our final ascent, a space opened up on top of the cargo rack, so I climbed up and rode up high like the other cool young Guatemalan men. Only they make it look easy and comfortable, which it most certainly was not. The road got a lot rockier during that last part, so I was holding on for dear life as the truck lurched and jolted from side to side along mountain hairpin turns. Definitely a relief to reach our destination.
In any case, that leg of the return trip was much easier. In Carcha, we caught another microbus, this one much more crowded, to Coban. We got in around 11:30 and spent a few hours eating lunch, retrieving our bags from the Proyecto EcoQuetzal office and using the internet. Then we hopped on an air-conditioned 2pm pullman to Guatemala City. We got in just as it was starting to get dark, around 6:30. Scott asked the man in front of us for directions to the other bus stop, the one where we could catch a bus to Antigua. To our surprise, it was not 5 blocks away as we had been told; it was a 20-minute taxi ride away. Definitely not walkable at that time of day with our obviously foreign backpacks Taking a taxi wasn't a great option either, as there's always the risk that your driver will take you 20 minutes in the wrong direction, steal your things and leave you stranded. The man told us which public bus we could take and then offered to take us there himself, as it was just 3 blocks from his house. Scott judged him to be trustworthy, and thus started our friendship with Braulio Mayen. He's a colonel in the Guatemalan Army with a couple of side businesses - some shooting ranges and a security service for foreigners.
We told him about our trip, about our plans for Antiua, and he invited us to spend the night at his house instead of continuing on. We protested but he insisted and, as the night kept getting darker, we eventually gave in. We arrived at his home around 8, filthy after spending 2 nights on the farm, and were welcomed in by his wife Wendy and 3 children. Dinner was pulled pork and potatoes with rice, tortillas and spicy pickled vegetables followed by fresh mango (from his family farm) tossed with lime juice and crushed toasted pumpkin seeds. Their family spoke very clear Spanish, so I was able to follow much of the conversation. In addition, Wendy used to work as a translator so spoke English (albeit shyly), and their oldest daughter had just graduated from an American high school so spoke very good English. It was fun for me to be able to chat with them.

My ability to communicate was the least of the differences between the indiginous Mayans and the urban Mayens. I woke up in a 2-room house composed of a dirt floor, a tin roof and wood plank walls, containing no electricity or plumbing, painfully little furniture and just enough food to live on. I woke up on top of a mountain on a farm only accessible by foot that's been cultivated by the same family in the same manner for generations. I went to sleep in Guatemala's biggest city, a few minutes down the freeway from an enormous luxury hotel, a mall and all the fast food you could want. The 2-story house was filled with comfortable furniture, paintings and figurines and decorations. There was hot running water and a refrigerator filled with food. There were TVs and CDs and a digital camera. There was a hired (Mayan) woman to help with the cooking and cleaning. The family has traveled far beyond the borders of Guatemala and can continue to do so at their leisure.
While the Mayen's house was certainly more comfortable (and familiar) than the Mayans' farm, both families extended beautiful hospitality. I thank both of them for sharing their lives with me.

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