(Belated) Nos Vemos, Guatemala

So I wrote a blog post on the flight back a week and a half ago and just realized that I didn’t post it.  So here it is:

I’m headed back to the States after a month in Guatemala.  My cousin is getting married in Chicago with a reception at the Art Institute.  This should provide a pretty stark transition back in to American culture.  I spent the last week in Guatemala trying to fit as much in as possible.

After a long weekend of hiking Tajamulco, the first part of the week was pretty relaxed.  On Tuesday, Guatemala played USA in an international soccer tournament.  We watched the game at our usual haunt, La Liga bar.  We were a large table of obvious gringos in a bar filled with Guatemalans.  This led to a fair share of taunting in our direction.  The game was close and wound up being a 1-1 tie.  So I guess everyone ended it kind of happy.

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At the rural clinic with the Guatemalan doctors

Wednesday was my last day in Xela.  I spent the morning working in the mobile clinic in a small town outside of Xela the name of which I can’t remember.  The population was 100% Quiche Mayan.  Many of the patients spoke broken Spanish and some spoke none at all.  It is always an experience to translate from English to Spanish in your mind and then hear the Spanish translated in to Quiche.  The best way I can describe the sound of Mayan languages is they are based on clicks.  It is so distinct from any language I have ever heard spoken before. 

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Palacio de gobierno in Xela

My last day in Spanish class my professor Alberto and I finished reviewing the last of the verb tenses and then walked down to Parque Central for my last view of the city.  We stopped in the government center and walked narrow streets of the old part of the city. I went home for a final dinner with my family.  Eggs, beans, and plantains.  Going out the way I came in.  I packed and then met some students, one of the Guatemalan doctors, and Anne’s host family for salsa night at La Paranda.  The club was packed and we got drinks and made fools of ourselves in front of the very serious Guatemalan salsa instructors.

It was a late night and an early morning to catch the bus to Antigua.  I took a Pullman to Chimaltenango and then a chicken bus to the market.  I walked around, found a hotel, set up a shuttle for the morning and then started to walk around Antigua.  I picked up the last of my gifts and spent the majority of my remaining Quetzals at the market.  Then I began to meander my way around the streets of Antigua.

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Universidad San Carlos, the first university in Guatemala

From everything I had read and heard Antigua is showpiece of Guatemalan tourism.  It is very Americanized, but that also means it is cleaner and safer than anywhere else in Guatemala.  And its historical significance and colonial charm give it a perfect atmosphere for meandering.  It was the Spanish colonial capital until it was devastated by multiple earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the 17 and 1800’s.  Much of the city was rebuilt but some of the ruins were simply left as they were.  This contrast gives the city a unique characteristic.

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Church ruins

I wandered up and down the streets, stumbling upon a church every few blocks and warding off souvenir peddlers.  I ended the day at a rooftop bar overlooking the city with a burger and beer (I know, very American, but after 4 weeks of rice, beans, and plantains, a plato typico was the last thing on my mind).  I was in bed at 9 to catch a 4 am shuttle to the airport.

Leaving anywhere is normally colored by bittersweet feelings.  Guatemala is the most amazing country I have visited.  It is a land of contrast.  The beauty of old colonial towns and churches surrounded by towering volcanoes and mountains.  The colorful strength of the Mayan culture poised against the dehabilitating poverty in which the live.  It is a country I will return to and learn more from.

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Local hangout in Antigua

However, I am ready to be home.  To have a warm shower, drink the water, and walk home at night.  To relax.  To see family and friends.

Nos vemos, Guatemala.

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