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January 22, 2003

guatemala, kinda like mexico, but different

gotta catch up a bit, left san cristobal a few nights ago, 2 that is, got the overnight bus right after i ran into anna from n.z. and roberto returning from puerto arista, kinda weird cause the same happened when i came down from roberto barrios to palenque. anyways, crappy overnight busride, nothing new there. got a combi to the border from tapachula, which someone described as kinda like tuxla, if that isnt enough to make me instantly dislike a city i dont know what is. crossing the border felt cool, like i was at the end of the world, i imagine that crossing into nicaragua or el salvador will feel even more interesting, weird desolate crossing points with armed soldiers standing around cradling machine guns.
paid $1.40 u.s. to cross into guatemala, the quetzal is their currency here, its 7 quetzal to the dollar. paid some guy 10 quetzal to drive me on his cart bike to the bus station, on the way we talked about his friends whove gone north to work in the states, in the same way that everyone from cuba had someone in miama, im starting to realize that everyone in guatemala has someone in l.a.

the bus station anwered the question what do they do with old american school busses when the suspension entirely completely totally gives out. the yellow carriages of my childhood where there in all their glory, modified with a rack system on the roof and cool paintjobs extolling that this particular bus is really down with jesus cristo. fighting back paranoia, i let them hoist my heavy as hell backpack up on the roof, and after asking about 5 times if it was tied down tight, i hopped aboard. my first official ride on a chicken bus, called that cause they are know to be loaded up with squawking live cargo.

inside the bus 2 teenage girls in traditional dresses and their dad were trying to see how many boxes of cooking oil and galletas (cookies) and crates of pepsi (mexico was coca cola, guess they dont have market dominance in all of latino america) they could cram below, above and in between the seats. i staked out my position, and a minute later we were on the road. for about 200 meters. then we stopped to pick someone up, and we were off again. for about half a mile, then we stopped again to... you get the picture. combine that with topes (speedbumps) that rivaled mexico for frequency and ass rattling power, and the fact that the only part of the bus not riding with jesus was the suspension, and you can imagine my amusement. they say the amusement wears off after the third chicken bus ride. i hope not, i have a lot more of those to go.

so i was sitting by myself for a while, till harry sat down. he introduced himself and we started to talk, i asked him what the slang term of choice here is, in mexico its guey, in spain, tio, in the u.s. dude or bro, here its cuate. i can handle that. i asked harry what he did for a living, and im not sure he understood my question. its not that i mumbled or said the wrong thing, i said de que te dedicas? which means whats your job? his reply: i like to read the bible. inwardly i groaned, but it was my first conversation with a guatemalan so i maintained my expression of interest. the next thing he said was that my name, which i said was daniel, reminded him of that film the titanic. if any of you see the connection let me know, i have no idea. then he decides to tell me the gossip hed heard, that leonardo dicaprio was gay. oohhh!!! i said i didnt know about that, which isnt true i had read something about that on fark.com, but i wasnt gonna spend my first chicken bus riding talking about gay hollywood teen heartthrobs.
he wasnt gonna let us get away from that theme. arent there some states in your country where theyve made gay marrages legal? he asked. there sure are. i told him, then i asked him what he thought about that, and of course he thought it was wrong. then he surprised the hell out of me by adding that he really liked to have sex with women. i dont know if he thought hed breached some male manner of conduct by talking about homosexuality, but his comment came suddenly and he used some weird slang so i compounded the problem by asking him what hed meant, and he used some different, more familar slang, and the people in front of us on the bus turned around to look at him.
he then went into asking questions about english, stuff hed picked up from movies and some old english spanish book he has. his best question was can i use the word ass, like pretty lady, you have a nice ass? he made an ass-slapping motion when i told him he would indeed be speaking correct english if he was to say that, it looked so funny that i followed suit, so he did it again, perhaps questioning my form. soon after that his town came up and he told me if i was ever stopping through i could stay with him, just to look for him at harrys water bottling store or something, i cant even remember the name of that town, but he said he had an extra room at his house with his wife and four kids. ah, latin hombres, ever questing after all the wimmens.

the rest of the busride wasnt as eventful, i watched as we wound up into the mountains. one problem with travelling in the jungle is that a lot of times the view you get out the window is of..trees. lots and lots of trees. oh yeah, and garbage, no difference there between mexico and guate, the proper place for garbage is on the side of the road right underneath the no tire basura signs (dont throw garbage).

finally we arrived at xela, its real name is quetzaltenango but xela, pronouced shay-la, is the mayan name that everyone uses. my backpack, safe and sound, came down off the roof and i hefted it up, looked around, and decided in my exhausted state to get a cab. the driver wanted to stop and wait for 5 minutes in front of his daughters elementary school to pick her up, but i rolled my eyes and he said, but youre paying so well drop you off first. nice guy.

i got a room at casa argentina, the cheapest hostel in town, im paying less then three bucks for a dorm bed, purified water, and full use of the kitchen. everyone at the hostel is in a language school, there are kinda a lot of americans and canadians, plus some germans and israelis, including this israeli i met in san cristobal like a month ago and ate dinner with, then ran into again in palenque on top of the pyramid, and i still cant remember his damn name.

fell asleep after eating and chatting with some canadians, we figured out in san cristobal that the most correct adjective for describing canadians is earnest. the ones i met last night were good fun though, we poked fun at each others nations then got to talking about world events, this impending war thing is the opposite of a good plan. i read an article on salon the other day about how in iraq the common people were bummed when hussein broadcast news the protest marches that happened in the u.s., cause secretly they want that saddam out of there. the thing is that the united states has a shitty track record of backing up the successors of our regime changes, last i heard afghanistan had decended back into warlord feudalism, right after the money we promised wed give them to rebuild their shattered country was yanked away, presumably to fund us getting our war on. check that last link its the latest in my favorite comic strip in the world.

got a good nights sleep in, awoke early this morning, which is my new custom since living in the community. went to possibly the weirdest museum ive ever seen, the natural history museum here in xela. downstairs they had a trophyroom full of soccer and boxing trophys won by local athletes, including boxers looking really tough in their supertight shorts. the weirdness was located, however, on the second story, where i walked into the room of poorly stuffed animals. thats not its actual name, but it stands true, they had all manner of dead creatures, cats, chipmunks, birds, badgers, lobsters and other crustaceans, even 3 lions, and every single one of them looked like it came out of a beginning taxedermy class. the marble eyes were all popping out like theyd suffocated to death, and the faces were bent into to hideous fanged smiling expressions. the actual skulls and bodies were deformed, it made me wonder if anyone from this town, after seeing actual real live and not poorly stuffed animals, was taken aback at the difference in shape. pieces of the skin were falling off, and the highlites i now remember were a siamese twin squirrel with one head and two torsos, and a baby lamb that had one head, two bodies, and 8 legs. thats right, 8 legs. it looked like a crazy lamb-spider. both of those freaks of nature only lived 5 minutes, the panel said, after listing the kind folks who had donated the carcasses.

other then that ive been taking it easy, gonna go hike up the volcana santa maria tomorrow with some other international folks i have met at the hostel, its 3375 meters, not the highest peak in central america but im not into peak bagging enough to go out of the way to get that one. on this trip anyways. after that, on towards antigua then up to coban and some more mayan ruins, including tikal.

a last note, two things youre gonna see in guatemala that you might not see so much in mexico: men passed out in the middle of the sidewalk and dead dogs in the street. it wont be long im sure before they cart some of the dead dog bodies over to the plaza, bend them into unnatural postions, and put them in their place of honor, in the second story of the natural history museum.

looks like salon has a string of good articles, if youre at work and have time:
this one about the anniversary of row vs wade and how bush might be able to stick some evil conservative judge on the supreme court and make our country a disgusting conservative bastion of shit.

germany finally says its gonna appose the war on iraq. with all their citizens who appose it, its about time.

another blog thats worth checking out is drews girlfriend kristas site, i find it quite amusing and wittily written (fuck is wittily even a word? maybe i should have said in a witty manner. oh well, i aint in college no more).

ok thats all, back to the hostel to cook dinner.

Posted by bendan at January 22, 2003 02:57 PM

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