latest post: Íshbop 3/18
Relocating to Cotzal Tuesday. May be incommunicado for a few days.
For the time being, the photo link will take you to the top of my Flickr photostream - - - - -
Update: No photos till I get back, for.....reasons.
Feel free to grab and zoom
This is the account of when all is still, silent, and placid.
All is silent and calm.
Hushed and empty is the womb of the sky.
~ from the Popol Vuh, creation story of the K'iche' Maya.
And now, at last, my covid-belated return to the Hispanosphere. The world of Latin America was warmly imprinted on me during my nine month sojourn in '11- '12. With the familiar comforts of its look and feel, in all its variety, and with my tiny but prized toehold in the language, it grew to be my home away from home. This will be my third venture to Guatemala (18 days in '05, four weeks in '11). I'll be returning to places I've been before, but will give them a more thorough and wide-ranging treatment, with plenty of elbow room for adjustments. Here's the outline: I'll fly into the capital (and out, as in '05 - slipped around it in '11). Then up into the highlands to sojourn in the "Ixil Triangle", home of the Ixil speaking Maya. (I stayed in the town of Nebaj in '05). Thence down to a nature preserve in the cloud forest that I visited in '05. Thence through the lowland jungle province of Petén, to the lakeshore town of Flores, and to Tikal, the remains of a great city of the classic Maya (as in '11). But I'll be venturing further this time, to the village of Uaxactun at the end of the road, to see the local ruins and creep about in the jungle. And so back to the capital. I am so poised.....
Monday, March 13
May as well start off with some bad fortune. My flight to Washington D.C. was diverted to Detroit. (“If there is a doctor or nurse aboard, please press the call button.”). On the ground for an hour forty-five. Removing the stricken passenger and topping up the fuel went quickly enough, but they really had to scrounge to find a bottle of oxygen to replace the one they used up to keep the poor man alive. (I’m sure a regulation was involved). Then there was the de-icing. Hope fades for my connection. In due course, arrive Dulles Airport, Washington. I hustle to my gate, to confirm that there would be no delay in my favor. My plane was timely, and taxiing away without me. Upshot: United Airlines vouched me a hotel (with convenient shuttle) and two meals, and set me up for tomorrow’s flight. I email my hotel in Guatemala City, and book a third, meaning a second night. Well there goes a whole day. Clunk!
Washington D.C., 3/13
Tuesday, March 14
Long hours at the Westin Hotel and at Dulles International Airport. A delay made for two more long hours. We rise into the dusk. Flying into Guatemala City, I remember how in ‘05 how strikingly dim it was for a large city. Now its lit up and it struck me as quite beautiful, the jewelscape following the build out patterns in the bottoms of the ravines like a giant, luminescent, many tentacled sea creature. Taxi to Hotel Spring. I’m here, now.
Wednesday, March 15
This day was devoted to soaking up Guatemala City (“Guate” is the term of endearment), as I ran around figuring things out and rehearsing my exit. The obstacles I faced and my linguistic fumbles and triumphs shall be lost to history. Guatemala City is a bit spiffed up since my visit in ‘05. The man-eating open utility maintenance holes in the sidewalks have been prudently covered up, the solvent huffers so evident then have moved on to evangelicalism, the coal-rolling buses are nowhere to be seen, and they’ve pedestrianized the main commercial street, now flowing with peace and civility. Nevertheless, Guate retains its soul as a grimy, block and concrete, corrugated metal dump of ugly functionality, with its thoughtful touches widely scattered and forlorn. Hence its charm. I'll be returning for more after a little tour of the country.
Guatemala City, 3/15
Thursday, March 16
I trundle my bag off to the Transmetro, the sleek, modern city bus system that has at least partially displaced the dirty red belchers of yore. To the stop at the Trebol junction, which junction is something of a swirling drainpipe for this whole quadrant of the city. Figuring out and navigating this pedestrian unfriendly place yesterday was a real to-do. But I am now prepared, and make my way to where chicken buses to the highlands await. I inquire my way into one bound for Santa Cruz del Quiche (“Quiche”) and we are under way in the promised three minutes. This bus did not pack, in the usual chicken bus tradition, till near the end of the run, when we paused to take on the passengers and cargo of another chicken bus, quite immobile and with its hood up, at the blind bend of a steep mountain curve. Arrive Quiche bus station for my connection to Nebaj. This bus was near full when I boarded, and the faces, bundles, language (Ixil), and attire indicated this ride was to be a much more country affair. I did get a seat in the back, but with nowhere to maneuver my feet, as the floor had been made cargo space for a load of oddly shaped concrete blocks. With more cargo in the aisle, I was doomed to be hunched, to the detriment of my buttocks. But who thinks of pain when there is a green, knobby mountainscape to admire. And many a political sign imploring people to afíliate with this or that party, with their symbols and acronyms, including the eyebrow raising “CABAL”. Arrive Nebaj bus station. I suss my way to the plaza, though there are better ways to do this than through a crowded, tarp-covered market with a bag on my back. I sit in the plaza to plan my hotel round, settling at length at the Hotel Turansa. Out to reconnoiter, occupy the plaza further, and dine. We had a real cloudburst, which surprised me, this still being dry season.
Friday, March 17
A wander about town day. My errands included looking for the well regarded trail guide and map that would inform my ambulations. But it was not to be found, so I’ll proceed with what I know and can figure out. And I sought out a different hotel for after this night. The annoyances of the Hotel Turansa were within bounds, except for the classic on demand shower head widget, which would promisingly dim the lights, but not do much for heating the water. Nebaj is on the cusp of big town/small city. There is a lot or roar and fume. The women are in traditional dress, most of them entirely, some trickling off toward the western. Aside from school girls in their uniforms, there are few females without some traditional element in there attire. The men and boys are pretty much clothed in world casual. In the market, I was pleased to have my memory confirmed of the one Ixil word I learned in 05 (orásh - goodbye), when I heard it pass between two old ladies. I recycled it to two little girls amid the vegetables who were staring in astonishment at the most gigantic human they’d ever seen. I softened them up with an hola and nailed them with an orásh, which they returned with giggles. Events in the plaza: A woman sings an amplified gospel tune in Spanish, accompanied by a kid on the electric piano. She followed with an imploring but stern sermon in Ixil. I later accepted her tract and promised I’d study it. A kid in a Domino’s Pizza shirt approaches me with a view toward interesting me in a pizza. I let him know that I knew Domino’s well, but that I was not hungry. We parted on good terms. Then young Ricardo sidled up, and we had a conversation of sorts, within my severe limitations. But I learned that, in Nebaj, a kid of fourteen may have only a little Ixil (so he declared - I do wonder about the linguistic proportions in this town) and that Nebaj has a great history. When I added that it was also a sad history (tambien triste), he gravely assented. (I refer to the displacements and massacres in the eighties.) One wonders a lot of things about that, including how it’s presented to the young. Out to dine, where my linguistic triumphs of the day were humbled in a little cena place without a printed menu and no detectable system to hang on to. But the señorita was muy paciente with my español.
Saturday, March 18
As I make my morning turn about the plaza, an affable old fellow accosts me with an “íshbop”. I catch his meaning, and he refines my pronunciation as I get it written down on my palm. So now now I have hello and goodbye in Ixil. We continue in Spanish, he gets my geographical info in detail, and we part with a mucho gusto/orásh. I step into the church, where up front women are murmuring as they shuffle on their knees toward the altar. I stay in back, and let my eyes wander over the names of the murdered in the civil war, written on little crosses. If one can call it a war when the forces arrayed and the body count were so lopsided. I linger over breakfast in a humble little family operation, aiming for the right time for a hotel switch. Pack up at the old, three blocks to the new, where the hot water is more than notional, and with a balcony hanging over an intersection. Not exactly quiet, but nowhere in the center of this town would be. Today’s agenda is to visit the nearby town of Cotzal, to secure a hotel for Tuesday and Wednesday, and have a look at the town on its market day. To the stop for local microbuses (big vans). Soon underway for the forty minutes to Cotzal. When we disembark, I am instantly marked and accosted by a grimy fellow, at the low tide of his blotto cycle, but still pretty addled, who was in need of brotherhood and money. My diminutive Spanish withered to “no speaka Spanish”, and so shook him off (for the moment). I plotz down in the plaza, just as the church bell lets out twelve gongs, marking a fine travel moment. I sense right off that I’m in a smaller place than Nebaj. We’ve dropped a thousand feet, and the world has greened accordingly. I sit a good long spell, and go off to have a look at the market (in full swing), and to find my first hotel prospect, supposedly in one of the market streets, with the dubious aid of a printed off google map. But it was not to be found. So I returned to the plaza to resume plotzing. I was feeling pretty good, and so dreamily let the nutmonger rip me off. (Well, maybe I'm being unfair, and though twenty quetzales seems high, he can’t sell them for nothing, and they were macadamias). I refused the services of the shoeshine boy, but he sat with me a while as I fed him macadamias and satisfied his curiosity as well as I could. He went off in search of paying customers, but my peace was soon broken by the return of the grimy/blotto fellow, who was not to leave this gringo unpestered. I figured the best thing to do was to walk him off, so I left the plaza, leaving the rest of the macadamias with the shoeshine boy, and headed into a market street, with this fellow seriously on my heels. By now he’s getting my little Spanish lexicon, and at last I resort to my practiced get-lost phrases (déjeme en paz, and váyase!), delivered sternly, paused, and to his face. This did the trick, much to the amused satisfaction of the venders and shoppers. Anyway, this fun little annoyance bonded me with a couple of gents sitting in their shop, of whom I asked the whereabouts of the elusive Hotel Maguey. And so I got escorted around the block, to where it should have been, and actually was. Easy to miss, as the entrance was through the associated comedore, and the sign obscured by market tarps. A very nice señora showed me a room, and though I have nothing against dungeons, I thought I’d keep looking. My next prospect was a ways off, and this time google maps pinpointed the police station, with no hotel within a block. So I inquired of the cop, sitting at his desk in the little street side office, and he pointed me way down the hill several blocks away. I had to make further inquiries, however, as the hotel’s sign was busted out and it was built over a big, open parking garage. I followed the arrows up to an actual reception, and so secured my domestic bliss for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Errand done, I wander to the other edge of town, ascending at length one of the hummocks in which the town is nestled, through domestic spaces. A light rain starts up, and stops as I come back through the market streets, the goods and produce and infrastructure now all packed up, leaving only vegetable waste and litter. But that will be picked up too, as these people never stop working. I had a look inside the church, a simple affair, colonial era, though I didn’t get a date. The evangelicals get an early start on the sabbath in this town. I passed by three of their houses of worship, from where they were sending electrified songs of praise heavenward, amped up like they mean business. Microbus back to Nebaj, through a cloudburst, which lets up before we are dropped off at the plaza. Lovely post-rain cloudscape lying in the folds of the knobby mountains. To my balcony with a cold Gallo. Out to dine, and back through more rain, aiming for overhangs over the narrow sidewalks. I pass a family of five with cardboard boxes over their heads.