Saturday, June 22, 2013

Intro to Guatemala

I wrote the post below on the bus from Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango (henceforth known as Xela).
It was a bit difficult for me to reconcile what I knew Guatemala to be like intellectually (high, cool, rainy, mountains) with what my previous experiences in Latin America caused me to want to expect (heat, sun, humidity, dust). But here are some first impressions:

So far, this region is cold! You can tell how high we are because the trees are mostly pine. Huge tracts of land all over are being used to grow corn. There are also squashes and other fibrous veggies in stands by the side of the highway (which is in good shape!) however, there was a landslide from all the rain that they were fixing.

Even the really nice, most expensive tourist buses are far below DR quality. They are pullman buses, old greyhounds, like the tour bus in "A League of their Own." And they are quiet. In the DR, and more recently, in Nicaragua, there was some kind of music, from Bachata to the Backstreet Boys, playing at all times. The lack of constant music feels off. But other things are familiar: the people who board the bus at each stop, selling cookies, gum, cell phone chargers, and more distinctly Guatemalan:tortillas, tamales, corn husks and banana leaves.

At Los Encuentros, a crossroads where the bus stopped to let on more passengers, a man who works at the ministerio de Salud in Panajachel boarded and sat next to me. We talked about malnutrition a bit; apparently the ministerio is promoting this drink called Vita Cereal for pregnant women and children, but it isn't as successful as hoped because the women don't have leña to cook it, time to prepare it, or they feed it to their whole family, not just themselves and their children. The guy also told me how much different buses and taxis should cost me while I'm up on the Altiplano, which I eagerly wrote down.

Nicaragua was somewhat surprising in that the transportation people didn't try to deceive white tourists too badly on prices, at least according to our host. Guate is more familiar, in that everyone tries to overcharge tourists for everything, just like the DR. Both taxis I've taken today have tried to charge me way more than I was told. The capital taxi told me 60 when the hotel desk told me 45. I ended up giving him 50. The guy here in Xela told me 40! When they guy on the bus told me 20-25. When I gave him 22 and told him why, he said, then you have to give me  25. While it's familiar, it's still frustrating.

Below is a picture of much of the landscape between Guatemala City and Xela.

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