Tonight is our last night here in Central America, it has been a fantastic experience and Jane and I would both like to return one day soon to continue our exploration. I am going to wrap up my thoughts about this part of our trip with an account of our final full day and some bits I wrote a while back but never posted. I could easily write more, there are so many stories here, so many thoughts provoked in my mind, this trip is the most amazing voyage of discovery, seeing and learning about our world and about myself too.
I am conscious that I have written some fairly heavy stuff possibly giving the impression that it is all woes here, I can assure you that I am of the opinion that the Guatemalan glass is half full ( admittedly it is a very very tall glass and there is indeed a fair amount of shit in the bottom half but hey with an equal or possibly greater amount of space above there’s great potential for improvement). This country is resource rich and the greatest of these, its people. We have been treated with nothing but kindness and patience at every turn by people who often can never even aspire to have the comforts in life that we enjoy. They, like a lot of people who by accident of birth live in a third world country, deserve more from life and maybe us lucky folk enjoying our successful delivery in the first world should learn to manage with a bit less!
Today we were busy exploring some of sights of Guatemalas quite dysfunctional but none the less charming capital city. Among our activities we visited the park central that has been given over to a Christmas festival that is drawing people in their thousands to enjoy the nearest thing to an alpine Christmas available in a country where the closest people ever get to snow is a plastic cup of Slushpuppy. With an ice rink, ski slope and ski lift ingeniously created (err, well actually a roller skate rink, riding down a wet plastic slide on rubber rings and some cables suspended about 6m above the ground) the happy folks cheerfully stood in line and handed over their hard earned dosh.
Christmas here is a huge deal, with a multitude of shops and a very large market given over to selling nothing but Christmas decorations and nativity figures in all shapes, sizes and degrees of artistic interpretation, but clearly this whole gaudy, wonderfully colourful bazaar has at its core the people’s belief in Christianity and the family. It will be a sad day when easy credit arrives, the multinationals set up store and people turn to consumerism as their deity of choice.
Yesterday the local paper carried 5 pages of gruesome accounts of murders (including a decapitation) of taxi drivers who refused to pay protection money. A couple of days before we read in a Honduran paper about 1000’s of children who have been abducted, often forced into prostitution or coerced into working for criminal gangs. There was a report of a boy believed aged about ten who was shot and killed a week ago and has still not been identified, he died alone with no family or friends ever knowing his fate. Another example of the harsh reality of life in what should be a subtropical paradise for all!
Guatemala and it’s people endure a great deal, mostly with a stoic cheerfulness that belies the harsh reality and tensions that lay beneath the rugged, dusty but oddly charming shambles it appears. A while back in Panajachel we met Tom the owner of an art gallery, over a coffee he gave us a potted history of Guatemala from the Spanish conquistadors through to a pretty nasty civic disturbance that had happened in the market place just an hour before (fortunately we were on the other side of town, so missed it). Tom has mixed ancestry, half indigenous Guatemalan, half German, I found his knowledge of historical events and his take on the current situation quite riveting. Tom’s comprehensive account was similar to others I had heard. It is clear that dark undercurrents converge here, a confluence of the murky waters that spring from narcotics, Uncle Sam and widespread corruption. Unchecked they threaten to undermine this Rocky country far more and in a lot less time than any of the smoking volcanos that dot the place. This is a wonderful country, the terrain will ensure that life is never going to be too easy but by necessity will always have to be “lived” in the real sense, I just hope that the people are allowed to get on with it, with health, education and opportunity, free of these ruinous influences. Adios Guatemala, gracias y hasta luego.