Black Cat Hostel, Antigua Guatemala
I have to say that Antigua is a tad too tourist town for me to really be into, but it is cute cute and the hostel is jumping with trendy international travelers. Guatemala is so green, lush and breathtaking you don’t want to blink, and our spontaneous road trip is full of surprises. Although this isn’t how I envisioned traveling through Guate, Mauricio and his little Chevy Comfort have been a treat, and the road trip allows the three of us to stop for photos, snacks and bathrooms (or bushes) whenever. Mauricio also has a huge collection of music, so we’ve been jamming with each curve in the road. Right now, Missy Eliot is blaring on the stereo in the bustling bar, while the past few nights outside the car all we had to listen to was Marimba, the traditional music of Guatemala, in two different town fairs.
We first entered Guate through the Talisman border crossing from Chiapas, Mexico. We were shocked when the scenery changed from Pacific tropical to fern drooping foothills falling into valleys patched with vegetable farms like quilt work. We reached San Marcos at sunset, got our pesos changed to Queztales, and drove on to Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela. We spent two nights in this colonial town, and witnessed the towns’ saint celebration of la Virgin del Rosario, listened to Marimba and banda, ate chuscurros and longaniza, gulped Gallo beer and walked through all the lit up stands selling sweets and a shot to win Loteria, which Vladi valiantly won for me. We spent a relaxing afternoon in Los Georginas natural spring, sulfur baths set in stone boulders and moss on the top of the misty foothill highlands. That evening we watched Mexico’s classic soccer match: America’s Aguilas vs. Guadalajara’s Chivas. Mauricio is super Americanista, and of course I am Chivas under Robert’s influence, turned Puma for my alma matter, la UNAM. So, I was screaming my head off and Mauricio was quite grim when first Bofo Bautista and then Omar Bravo scored in the second half, and Oswaldo Sanchez shut out the game at 2-0.
From Xela we moved on the Lake Atitlan, a small tourist town of Panajachel. On arrival, we read in the paper that Mexican president elect Felipe Calderon had arrived in Guatemala City to rub elbows with Guatemalan president Oscar Berger and lend a communications hand to the right wing presidential candidate in the upcoming election here in Guate. Calderon and his National Action Party (also of current president Vicente Fox) led an extremely successful smear campaign against the popular vote winner and Democratic Revolution Party candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which was one factor in many that led to Calderon’s reported 0.6% lead in the polls, so he must have much advice to dole out. The town of Pana itself was a stinging reminder of the failure of the right, as after one year of hurricane Stan, president Berger had not rebuilt one bridge or school. We asked along with the graffiti on the walls, what happened to all the international relief funds? The destruction of the hurricane was hidden from the tourist center, and the only proof one could see were the street kids begging for change, but our humble budget enabled us to see other parts of town, a truer Panajachel. We camped for a couple of days, first in a nature reserve with butterflies and monkey’s playing in the trees, and then to another cheaper campsite on the other side of town owned by an old Texan hippie named Miguel, who warned me of the current Venus crossing, the return on my Saturn at 28, and the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in 2012. Lake Atitlan, as I visited the previous year, is a clean blue lake surrounded by volcanoes. After so much beach bumming, the sweet fresh water was refreshing to swim in. Our stay in Pana coincided with the towns’ 50th anniversary of the Cathedral of San Francisco, so we were able to listen to more Marimba and choke on acrid blue smoke at each firework shot into the night sky.
From Pana we drove on to Antigua Guatemala, whose stunning cobblestone streets are patrolled by tourist police. Groups of blond US and EU tourists walk around town escorted by a uniformed officer as they view the intact and earthquake ruined churches. We found bunks in the Black Cat Hostel and braved the sites on our own without harm or threat. I was relieved to have some time tonight to reflect on all that I have seen thus far, and now that everyone, including Vladi and Mauricio, have moved on to the next bar in the hostel’s organized bar hopping activity, aptly called the Cat Crawl, I am sitting in a lone bar chatting with the bar keeper Minor, who is telling me about his sojourn to the states five years back, where unfortunately, while he has family in Mountain View, he was apprehended and deported at the border. As I sit here comfortably in this cozy hostel left silent, drinking my ginger and lemon tea from Josah, I’m feeling the urge to come home to Cali and work; to offer my services to my hosts here in Guatemala and Latin America, who for economic necessity leave their remarkable and beautiful homelands to make the long journey to the US to serve us there.