Friday, January 11

the guate letters: part III

Photos are up in no less than six different albums:

Guatemala favorites: my favorites

Guatemala: mostly family photos - not for the faint-of-heart

Guatemala City: City shots

Antigua: From our two days in the Spanish Colonial town of Antigua

Christmas: Christmas prep, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day

New Years: New Years Eve and New Years Day

Or just go here to choose from all six.

Dear Antigua,

You have so much going for you, Antigua. Traffic congestion is somehow easier to bear on cobblestone streets lined with fruit-candy-colored houses and while trying to avoid quaint horsedrawn carriages clopping steadily along bearing tourist families or fluffy young girls having photos taken to celebrate their quinceaneras.

Your lovely central park glowed with thousands of white Christmas lights while we were there, and at night it was not difficult to smuggle a bottle of Merlot onto a park bench beside a dark path. Although "smuggle" is probably the wrong word, as no one seemed to care. Even the guy across from us was consuming a beer and nodded to us in a friendly manner when we popped out the cork. Mainly we just carried it out there and sat there drinking it, living as close to the edge as we dared.

Your hotel population seems to be comprised of gorgeous old Colonial haciendas or equally charming sorts of structures, and ours was no exception with purple and red and yellow flowers dripping over the balconies into the central courtyards (two of them!) and red tiled floors and ceilings reaching at least 12 feet, if not higher. We had arguments, but in the end we decided we would never be tall enough to reach the beams in order to measure them anyway and went to take a nap in the hammocks outside of our room instead.

Antigua, you are also conveniently the location of the bright yellow Colonial-style home of Raphael's Tia (aunt) Aurora, who had just finished cooking a batch of tamales in a large black pot lined with dark green plantain leaves set over coals on the ground off her back patio when we arrived for a visit. Beyond the pot, the yard swells into lush, green overgrown vegation sprinkled liberally with flowers and leaves and berries of all other colors. Bougainvillea, of course, and purple and orange bird-of-paradise; bright red and yellow hanging combs of heliconia; thin-leafed, wild poinsettia; coffee plants weighed down with green and red berries; fiery orange roses.

Tia Aurora's house is gorgeous, with red and yellow tiles on the patio, a green kitchen, and, most impressively, a dining room at the far end of the patio with only three walls!

When you have a house in Antigua, Guatemala, you simply don't need a fourth wall.

Love, J

Dear Guatemala City,

I'm sorry. I don't love you half so much as your lovely little sister to the west, but you have the rough and dirty charm of a city built for people to live in, not to visit, and I find you more intriguing for it. More scary, but also more compelling.

Guate, you are loud with stores trumpeting reggaeton out onto the sidewalks. You are rife with broken ATMs and security guards bearing large guns at the entrance to every bank. You are acrid with black exhaust pouring from your red-and-yellow buses and with burning trash and the holiday smoke of firecrackers. You are tied up tight with wires and tinsel and decorated with layers upon layers of advertisements and colored paint. Your clotted streets are lined with vendors selling pineapples and melons and bananas, fireworks, cotton candy. Sober clowns juggling oranges for tips at traffic lights and children selling hard candies from bags at the windows of stopped vehicles.

Guate, you are a city of neighborhood tiendas once open to the sidewalks but now barred off against thieves; tiny corner markets where women in colorful indigenous dress offer fruits and flowers; shrieking children happily setting off Christmas firecrackers in the neighborhood streets; affable guards at the security gates that have sprung up at the entrances to the neighborhoods; rangy packs of wary dogs; businessmen dining in Mexican restaurants; and entrepreneurs offering transportation on hand-decorated and homemade taxi-contraptions. You are a city of cheap clothing, daily fresh-baked bread, and long lines for everything.

Guate, you are a city violently alive, cradling the wealthy and the poor, those of European descent and those of Mayan descent, all mixed together in a smoky basin slashed by rugged, steep-sided ravines and plagued by the shifting of the earth beneath you.

In short, Guatemala City, you are real and you are messy, and that's what I like about you.

Love, J

Dear Raphael's Family,

I call you the Clan, because you are huge and loud. You are about five times larger and eight times louder than my demure little family. But I like your loudness and your hugeness, even if it overwhelms me sometimes and I have to close the door and read a book (in English) for awhile. Because in your hugeness and loudness, you are extremely warm and welcoming, with ready smiles and quirky humor and, yes, good looks.

You made me feel like part of the family. Tea when I wasn't feeling well! A ride when I needed a ride! A bed when I needed rest! Pollo Jocon when I needed Pollo Jocon, even though I didn't, technically, participate in the party associated with the dinner and therefore didn't really earn it!

I promise to practice my Spanish before we come to visit next time, because my only regret is that you went out of your way to accomodate and communicate with me, but I haven't gone out of my way to learn to communicate with you. Next time, Clan, next time.

Love J.


Jen Phelps Cutler said...

Sounds like it was an amazing visit! I'm writing from work, so I didn't have a chance to peruse all of your pics yet. Looking forward to doing so later, from home.

I'm guessing all of those years of French didn't prove so useful. You could've learned a thing or two memorizing 400-word Spanish speeches with me way back when! ;-) Ah well, sounds like it'll be a fun new adventure for you, and at least it's a language commonly used here, too. Lots of opportunities for practice!

Betty said...

I could write a whole page of comments about eating food in 3rd world countries, bringing your own medicine, etc. from our trip to India and Todd's other travels.
I'm glad it sounds like you got well quickly. The letters were a very creative way to share about your trip and the pictures made us feel like we were right there with you!