Saturday 30 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Last Day in Antigua

             It was 5:00 AM this morning when I was awaken.  This time it wasn’t the church bell, but a terribly loud noise that sounded like a falling wall with individual bricks hitting the pavement.   Such a sound was frightening, after seeing so many signs of destruction caused by earthquakes that have plagued Antigua.  This loud noise reoccurred several times this morning.  Finally, I recognized the sound as being multiple  fireworks being shot off.  For what reason, besides to waking me up, I do not know.  Perhaps, they were not able to get the clanging bells to work.

    When I got out of bed, I felt a bit weak and wobbly.  I wondered if it was caused by my tourista, or side effect of the Lomotil I have been taking.  Anyway, I got back in the bed until 8:00.   When I did get up, I organized my suitcase, then headed off to the bank to cash a Traveler’s Cheque in the  legitimate way.  Legitimate it may have been, but it sure wasn’t efficient.

    I had to stand, waiting in a line for thirty minutes before my turn at the counter came.  I cashed $100 US, because I was worried that I would not have enough cash when I got to Tikal.  My guide book had stresses the importance of having a goodly amount of cash before arriving there.   I confess I felt pretty rich walking out of the bank.  Then I went shopping for some earrings for Joan.

    I found some jade and silver ones that I thought she would like, and I also bought two pairs of silver ones for friends who had given me money.  After that spending spree, I was pretty much in the same mental condition as I was before cashing the Traveler’s Cheque at the bank; worrying if I would have enough cash, when I got to Tikal.  I decided I would have to go to the bank again tomorrow to get more cash.

    In my slack time, I have been reading whatever books I can find.  My hotel has a little shelf of free books in the front.  Yesterday I read one called, “I Am a Beautiful Stranger” which was sort of a diary of a teenage girl in the 1950’s.  Last night I found myself reading one called, “I, The Legend” about the last man alive on Earth, who is not a vampire.  Not great literature, but it passes the time.

    This afternoon during my siesta, I finished the book, counted my money, and tried to figure out some sort of schedule for the rest of my trip.  I am half done with my travels, I have spent half of my money, but that included two airline tickets and souvenirs.  I have spent $170 on souvenirs, (a lot of friends gave me money to buy them some jewelry.).   All in all, financially, I should be okay. 

    I got brave and decided to take a shower and got a nice surprise for a change; some warmish water.

    This afternoon I noticed one of the local volcanos had some smoke coming out of it, as long as smoking is all it is does, that will be fine with me.  Martin said one of the volcanoes is still active.

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Friday 29 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: To Guate, Then Back to Antigua

    I woke up very early this morning, but not by choice.  It was those damn clanging church bells again.  I have often thought that living close to one of those Muslim minarets with their periodic loud prayers would be horrible, but living by a Latin American Catholic Cathedral is no better.  The church bell loudly clangs multiple times, takes a short rest and then goes at it again, repeating the pattern over and over in the early morning.

    Unfortunately, I still suffered from “tourista”, but luckily, yesterday I did find some toilet paper on a roll by the hotel lobby.  I again took some Lomotil hoping to control the problem.  Some hotels have a bottle of purified water in the rooms, but this one unfortunately doesn’t, so I ended up brushing my teeth using Sprite.

    I was back out on the street by 8:00.  I walked down to the Tourist Information Center and picked up my nice clean laundry.  It cost me 5Q ($1.85 US).  I then got on a bus headed for “Guate” (Guatemala City) which was 50 km. (30 miles) away.  That trip cost me only .75Q ($.75). 

    Although the capital of Guatemala; Guatemala City looked as bad as everyone had said.  Antigua had been the capital but after being so devastated and destroyed by earthquakes, the Spanish moved their capital to Guatemala City.  This really didn’t solve the problem though, since Guate also suffers from devastating earthquakes, but it remains the capital.

      At Guatemala City, a German couple directed me to Setsa Travel Agency which was only 5 blocks from the bus terminal.  The travel agent was very friendly and spoke English, which is always a relief.  I bought a ticket for flight to the Internationally famous jungle Mayan ruins of Tikal in a few days time.  The flight cost me 80Q or $29 US.   With the flight arranged, I returned to the bus station and was back in Antigua by noon.

    The bus trip back was yet another experience to remember.  Whenever our bus passed a police checkpoint, all of the many passengers standing in the aisle, had to duck down, hiding until the bus got back out of sight of the police.  Another unusual event during the bus trip was that the bus driver got a ticket for running a stop sign.  He had already failed to stop at several during the trip.  As he began to run this particularly one, I was thinking, “This is pretty outrageous.”  I guess the cop was thinking the same thing.

    The driver then had to drive a block further where two policemen stood chatting.  One cop kind of motioned the bus driver to come see him.  All of us passengers sat in the bus for about five minutes, listening as the bus’s engine choked and coughed, getting closer to death the whole time.

    Once the police were done, the driver and his helper returned to the struggling bus, cranked up the engine and continued the trip at breakneck speed down the narrow cobblestone street.  Clearly the bus driver was really pissed off at what had happened.

    I ate a sandwich pollo grande, for lunch.  It turned out to be a bit too grande, but I forced myself to finished it.  I then met up with Martin who hadn’t eaten yet, so I accompanied him to a restaurant in a nice courtyard.  While he ate, I ordered myself an iced tea which was very refreshing.  Unfortunately, our  meal was cut short due to sudden rumblings in my digestive tract, forcing me to quickly excuse myself and scurry back to my hotel room bathroom.  I then lay down for an hour until I felt secure enough to venture out to take some more photos of Antigua.

    Somewhat chastened by my bout of “tourista”, for supper Martin and I went out for some vegetarian soup.  I wasn’t that hungry but the warmth and taste of the vegetarian soup was calming.

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Thursday 28 September 2023

Autumn Colors at Koeneman Park

    I am once again interrupting my 1987 Guatemalan journal blogs to celebrate our vibrant Fall colors.  Both of these shots were taken at Koeneman Park.  In the photo above, not only can you see the Autumn hues and the old Koeneman homestead cabin, but also, on the mountainside, some of the charred area from this Spring’s forest fires.

    Below is the color displayed by one of the park’s Birch trees.

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Tuesday 26 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Antigua

According to my guide book, Antigua was a “beautiful city” and the “most popular tourist destination in Guatemala, next to the Mayan ruins of Tikal”.  That buildup didn’t quite jive with what I was seeing when I got off at the bus collection area in Antigua.  To me it seemed hot, withered, and rather barren.  I got a room at the Hotel Refugio, which was amazingly affordable, only 5Q ($1.85 US) per night.  It had a shower (I later discovered that it had no sink).  However, my room did have the ambiance of a jail cell, dark concrete walls, long, and narrow.  It was only 6 feet (1.8 m.) wide, but it had a bed, and toilet, so I figured it would do.

I started to wander through town, thinking, “I was planning on spending several days HERE?”  Looking around seemed to demand a change of those plans, but those thoughts were soon forgotten when I ran into another Gringo; a Scotsman, named Martin, who had been traveling through South and Central America for three months.   Things began to seem more tolerable with an English-speaking companion to talk to.  Together we took our dirty clothes to the Tourist Information center which we had learned offered a laundry service.  We were told we could pick up our clean laundry at 6:30 that evening, but later we found out that that ETA had been moved to the following day.

Martin had a lot of travel experience in getting around in foreign countries, and we soon found ourselves discussing not only that, but topics ranging from politics, (being from Scotland, Martin was especially interested in my thoughts on the Quebec independence movement since he was keen on Scotland’s independence movement. He probably didn’t care about my negative view of Quebec’s outrageous demands).  We did find a lot of common ground discussion other things, such as a shared a love of Blues music.

As we explored Antigua, I began to realize that the old Guatemalan capital city, which was located in sight of two active volcanos, had a real earthquake problem. Throughout the city, we saw numerous ruins of earthquake-devastated cathedrals, some dating from the 1600‘s, scattered throughout the old Spanish colonial city.  Seeing so much earthquake caused rubble and devastation was rather sobering and gave me a bit of insecurity.

We ate some ice cream cones for .60Q ($.22 US) and later I had a hamburger, fries, Coke, and a cucumber for 1.95Q ($.72 US).  When I had to cash another Travelers’ Cheque, I ended up in another back room of a money changer.  It always seems devious to do these black market monetary transactions, but I can never find a bank that is open, or is willing to cash a cheque.

I ended my first day in Antiqua with two surprises, both bad.  I once again found out I had come down with a case of “tourista” and the second surprise, related to the first, was really bad  Not only did my room have no towel or sink, it also had no toilet paper.  Fortunately I found a napkin left over from my ice cream cone that I had thrown into the waste basket.  Maybe a cheap price of a hotel room, should not in its self, be the deciding factor.

        Below, one of Antigua’s smoking volcanos.

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Monday 25 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: More Chicken Bus

    My first surprise that next morning came early.  I took a shower and when I came out, I realized that the Hotel Mayan Kanek hadn’t supplied me with a new towel, so I ended up drying myself with a pillow case.  I had brought a towel along with me on the trip, but I didn’t want to get it all wet, because I would be traveling all day and I didn’t want a wet towel in my suitcase.

    The boy who helps run the hotel told me the bus to Chimaltango would come by at 10:00, first coming up the street, then it would return.  At 10:05, when I saw it coming up the street, I waved to flag it down, and the driver helper yelled something which I assumed was, “We’ll pick you up on the our return trip.”   Unfortunately, the bus never did return.   There are usually a lot of buses coming and going in the smaller rural towns, so I eventually was able to catch a mini-bus to Solola.

    Once we had arrived, I noticed there were multiple bus parked in the plaza, all of which looked like they should be condemned.  The Gringos who I had ridden with in the mini-bus, all boarded a green chicken bus.  I asked the bus helper, “Antigua?” to which he nodded affirmatively, then added, “Change, Transfer.”  

    I handed him my green bag, which he put up on top of the bus, then because the bus was already full, he walked me to the back door of the bus which was open, and I climbed in and sat on the back seat which still vacant.  As I sat down, I felt very uneasy, because the inside of the bus literally smelled like shit.  I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, or for that matter, whether the bus was headed to where I wanted to go.   

    While sitting in this unsettled and insecure state, suddenly something brushed against my calf.  I jumped, being startled, and then something hit my leg again, and made a grunting sound.

    It was a live pig in a bag, which had been placed under my seat.  I took a deep sigh in relief, and suddenly I wasn’t apprehensive any more, although I still didn’t know where the bus was going to let me out, and if I could catch another bus from there before nightfall.  It was too late to worry about that anyway, because we were already sputtering down the road, with only one stop to fill the radiator, after which the bus had to start its engine by rolling backward and popping the clutch.

    The bus slowly thinned out of local Indians (and their livestock).  A German fellow from Bavaria sat beside me and we talked.  He and his group were headed to the Mexican Mayan ruins in Palenque then were planning to go down the river to the Guatemalan ruins in Tikal.  That would sure be a more interesting 3 days in the jungle for them, compared to my getting to Tikal using conventional means.

    Like me, they departed the bus at the highway, but headed toward the Mexican border on another bus.  There was no bus to Antigua waiting for me, so I and my bag settled under a tree, hoping that such a bus would soon come along, headed in my direction.  I only had to wait about fifteen  minutes before one did, and and to my surprise, it was actually a coach, instead of a school bus.  I climbed in and it took me as far as Chimaltango.  There I got out and walked over to several parked buses, and sure enough, one of them was destine for Antigua, so onto it I climbed.

    The buses in Guatemala seemed so unorganized and haphazard, but surprisingly, somehow they work, and get you to where you want to go.  It took me three different buses in various states of condition to get from Panajachel to Antiqua, but in the end, I did get there.

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Sunday 24 September 2023

1987 Travel Diary: Movie Night in Panajachel


        After my voyage back to Panajachel, I went up to a cafe and got a Coke.  I watched as a group of Mennonite women, dressed in their characteristic long dresses and bonnets came in to eat.  They seemed so out of place here in Mayan Country, but I recalled hearing that fundamentalist Protestant churches had been making inroads into the Catholic areas of Guatemala and I had seen several churches in my travels.

    In the evening, I went in search of a nice place to eat.  The night before I had tried one of the places down by the lake shore.  I ordered a tortilla con carne, but it ended up being very gristly.  I had been keeping an eye out as I wandered through town in the morning, in hopes of finding a restaurant with an outside menu that listed the prices.  I had spotted such an eatery on the long road down to the lake, so made my all the way down there, only to find it closed.  I continued down the road, and did finally find a place where I bought an exciting, chicken sandwich and Pepsi.

    I couldn’t figure Panajachel out.  There seemed to be lots of tourists, and that was a puzzle, where do they stay?  Where do they eat?  How do they spend their time?  Surely, they can’t shop all day.  Obviously, I must have been missing something, but I never did find out what it was.

    When I walked back to my hotel, I noticed the sign; “Cine”, and guess where it was, right on the front of the hotel where I am residing.  That night it was featuring the movies, “Into the Night” starring Dan Ackroyd and David Bowie and then “Salvador” with James Wood.  It cost a whopping 2Q ($.74) to get in, and since I didn’t have any other plans, I flopped down my money and entered.

    I didn’t really have any high expectations, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to discover that the Cine was just a side room of the hotel.  The film was only a video with its image projected on a big screen.  The movies were obviously pirated from “Showtime” the US movie channel, because periodically throughout the films the Showtime name flashed on the screen. “Into the Night” was okay, but more violent than it needed to be.  

    I found the movie “Salvador” which is set during the murderous military coup in El Salvador devastating, despite the fuzzy images projected on the screen and the sometime unreadable subtitles used for the Spanish dialogue.  It is not the kind of movie I would recommend watching while actually being in a third world Latin American country, like Guatemala.  To me, its sets and characters, seemed too much like what I was seeing all around me every day.  The film left me with the “creeps” as I walked back out onto the poorly lit streets of Panajachel.

    Luckily, I didn’t have to go far because my hotel was just next door, but when I got there, the door was closed, and I could see no doorknob or latch to open it.  Another couple also wanted to get in, so we rang the buzzer several times, but got no response.  A passerby told us to knock on the window, so we tried that.

    Another local guy who was watching us standing there, said something in Spanish to the first guy, who then pulled a wire that came out of the middle of the door, and Wallah! the door opened.  Foolishly, we walked in and apologized to the hotel staff person, who by this time, had come out to see about the ruckus we were causing outside by the door.

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Saturday 23 September 2023

Robson Valley: Drought Level 5

    I am leaving my 1987 travel journal behind today to blog about a serious problem that has been developing in the Robson Valley:  The area has just risen to Drought Level 5, the highest level.  I have mentioned several times in the blog about how dry it was, but despite the periodic showers, things have been getting worse and worse.

    One day last month, we lost our water, so my neighbor and I walked up to Sunbeam Falls to see what was going on.  We were shocked to see that no water was flowing over the top of our big culvert (the photo shows how it is supposed to look).  Instead the culvert was only half full of water, and we had lost our waterline water because its intake pipe was sticking into the air, above the water level.  

    I had never seen Sunbeam Creek so low.  There was some water flowing into our culvert, but not enough to keep it filled.  Luckily, by rearranging some small boulders above the culvert we were able to divert the flow a bit to get more water into our culvert.  Enough to feed our intake pipe, but not enough to fill our culvert to the top.

    I always had some of our water flow into my pond, but I turned that off to lessen the amount of water we use.  Fortunately we have had no water problems since then, but there are serious water problems across the whole Valley.

    The town of McBride gets its water from Dominion Creek.  Its water level has seriously fallen.  The Village is now taking out half of the creek’s flow for the Village’s needs.  There is mounting concern that with such a low flow on Dominion Creek, freezing this winter could cause ice to completely cut the flow of water to the Village.  This would be a disaster for McBride.

    Many people living outside the Village rely on local creeks and springs for their water.  Like Sunbeam and Dominion, the flow other creeks has diminished, and many of the springs have gone completely dry.   Some friends who live just down the road used one of the springs on our side of the mountain, for their water.  That spring no longer exists.  For months they had to scramble to get water elsewhere.  They had been taking their showers in McBride at the Arena, however because of the Village’s Water Usage Restrictions, those showers are no longer available to use.  That seems strange, because in the news release below it says the Arena will be allowed to use water for ice making (for hockey and ice skating, I assume), but not for showers?

    This drought is a new experience in the Robson Valley, which in part, lies in an Interior Rain Forest, but clearly no place is immune to the effects of Climate Change, and I fear, this is only the beginning.

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Friday 22 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Santiago, A Trip Highlight

    I walked over to the mid-sized covered boat, paid the 5Q ticket price and joined the group of youthful tourists, retired tourists, and local Mayan Indians for the hour and a half voyage across Lake Atitlan.  It was refreshing to have the breeze in my face, as my eyes scanned over the deep blue water toward the two massive volcanic cones, which slowly changed their positions as our boat moved across the lake.

    The tallest volcano is 11,000 feet above sea level and the other volcano turned out to hide two smaller volcano cones behind it.  The Mayan Village of Santiago was nestled in a cove.  The minute we landed and stepped off of the boat, we were surrounded by Mayan women who started hitting us up to buy their colorful hand-woven wares.

    I wandered up the dusty path to a street that seemed to be the commercial center of tiny Santiago.  On the fronts of the adobe houses hung blankets, blouses, and shirts, brightly and beautifully embroidered with birds and flowers.  As I walked, I found myself constantly saying, “No, gracious, no gracious, no gracious.” as I was continually approached by the women vendors hawking their colorful handwoven fabrics.

    Actually, I did purchase a few things.  I came upon an ancient Mayan woman who was spinning yarn using a hand-spindle.  I had spun my share of mohair yarn using a spinning wheel, so it was fascinating to watch the old woman spin wool, by just twirling the wooden stick spindle that dangled down, as she fed it the wool with her other hand.  She was selling the hand spindles, and I bought two of them from her for $2.00 each.  She then allowed me to take her photo.

    I made my way back to the boat dock about an hour before its noon departure to Panajachel.  I sat myself under the shade of a tree overlooking the shoreline of Lake Atitlan, and was soon surrounded by a group of 5 young girls selling peanuts, sashes, necklaces, and a variety of 4” long bananas. They began to bombarding me with their sale’s pitches all at the same time, as they pushed their items toward me.

    I did buy a bunch of the miniature bananas and ate them.  I also bought some necklaces made of beans (someone was a good salesperson).  As their sale’s pitches continued, I whipped out my my cassette recorder, and started to record the girls’ chatter.  Like in the Oaxaca restaurant, they had never seen such a thing, and I played the recording back to them, over and over to their great amusement and giggling.

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Thursday 21 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Money Exchange

    Discouraged by Panajachel, the next morning I had pretty much decided I was going to catch the 10:00 bus out to Antigua, so after my breakfast of toast and tea, I walked to the bank to exchange some money.  (I hadn’t been able to pay for my hotel room yesterday because I was out of Guatemalan cash.)

    In front of the bank I discovered a line up of fifteen other Gringos, all sitting on the curb waiting for the bank to open at 10:00.  I took my place sitting on the curb, at the end of the line.  I figured I wouldn’t be catching the 10:00 bus.

    When 10:00 came around and the bank door opened, the group of us “touristas”  all went in, only to be told that the bank was not going to cash any Traveler’s Cheques or exchange any money that day.   We would have to wait until tomorrow.  “Shit, now what?” I wondered.

    Back on the street, dejected, and wandering back toward my hotel, I was approached by a boy who asked me if I wanted to exchange money or cash a cheque.  “Si,” I replied.

    He secretly led me into a barber shop where this big guy comes out of a door with a big wad of money.  The bank rate for exchange was 2.7 for American dollars, at the barber shop it was 2.6, but it could be done immediately, so I cashed in a US $50 and received 130 Quetsals.  While I was at the barber shop, no one came in for a haircut, but there were plenty of customers coming in for the black market currency exchange services.

    My money matters being taken care of, I wandered down to the shores of Lake Atitlan to take some photos.  The lake had recovered nicely overnight and the sky was very clear and breezy.  I was snapping away with my camera when I was approached by a guy who asked if I wanted to go to Santiago, a Mayan village across the lake, the boat was about to leave.  Price was 5 Q ($1.85 round trip.)  How could I refuse?

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Wednesday 20 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Panajachel

    Climbing toward Solola, we passed through some beautiful countryside.  Vertical fields of barley (I think) clinging to the steep volcanic slopes among the pines.  Out of the windows of the bus, everything was tan and green, accented with golden piles of straw along the road, all accented by the pinks, scarlets, and purples of the ethnic Mayan women’s clothing.  

    The Guatemalan countryside seems cleaner than that of Mexico; not as much litter along the roadside, at least in this area.  The people graze their sheep along edge of the road, so the the grass is short and neat, with no weeds sticking up.

    The Mexican towns seemed funny.  Everyone was always out washing and sweeping the sidewalks, but at the same time, everyone was always throwing trash on the sidewalks.  You could never find a litter barrel, or a trash receptacle.

    I got off of the bus at the turnoff to Panajachel (Pan-a-ha-CHEL), my next destination.  It is a small town in the Guatemalan highlands, nestled beside Lake Atitlan.  An Italian couple also got off the bus, and together we began walking down the road.  The exercise was quite pleasant and welcome, after being so uncomfortably confined for hours on the bus seat.  It was good to be able to work the cramps out of my legs while slowly taking in the landscape and occasional Indian peasant we passed on the road.  There was a pleasant  breeze and warm sunshine.

    Soon my straps from my bags started cutting into my shoulders and the easy walk down the road became a hot climb up a slope, but onward we trekked, until fortunately, a French guy in a van came by and picked us up.  He drove us all the way to Panajachel and Lake Atitlan.

    I was quickly disappointed in Panajachel, I hadn’t expected it to be so touristy.  The layout of the town seemed rather disjointed and convoluted.  There seemed to be a lot of Mercedes and other expensive cars driving around, so it didn’t seem like the quaint Mayan-oriented town I had envisioned.  Sadly, the two dramatic volcanos on the far side of Lake Atitlan, were partially obscured by smoke.  Again, not exactly the pristine environment I had imagined.

    I thought it would be nice to take a swim, but I could see no one else doing it, so I wondered about the water.  Later I learned that swimming in Lake Atitlan included the risk of getting Hepatitus B—No Thank You.

    After a long search, I did manage to find a very cheap hotel room ($3.30 US, a night).  The bed was terribly soft and saggy, and the toilet had no plastic or wooden seat to sit on, so it is always a cold shock to your bare skin when it settled down on the cold porcelain rim of the bowl.  I had to fix the flush on the toilet shortly after entering the room.  Plumbing never seems to work in this part of the world.

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Tuesday 19 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Guatemalan Bus Ride Continues

    The bus was snaking back and forth through the hills at a good clip, when suddenly at the bottom of a valley the bus slowed and pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.  No passengers were waiting there to get on and I couldn’t figure out why we had stopped.  

    Bus Helper #1 started yelling at the passengers standing on the bus steps beside the driver, telling them to get out of the way.  Once the area was cleared of people, the helper began rooting around through the pile of the packages, bags, and machetes, stored by the gearshift.  From the bottom of the pile, he pulled out a blue plastic bucket.

    Bucket in hand, he scrambled down the steps, and side of the road where a creek was flowing.  He dipped the bucket into the water, turned, and carried it back up to the bus.  While this was going on, Helper #2 was raising the hood of the bus, and although I couldn’t see what was happening behind the bus hood, I realized that they were filling the radiator with water.  Once filled and the radiator cap back on, the two  slammed down the hood of the bus and one after the other, the two helpers jogged along the already rolling bus, grabbed the side mirror, and swung themselves back into the open door of the moving bus.   

    The scenery outside during this whole circus was interesting.  Beginning at the Guatemalan border the landscape looked volcanic, with steep slopes, knobs, and mountains.  On these ridiculously steep slopes were corn fields.   I don’t know how the corn plants managed to hang on, let alone, anyone that was trying to pick the corn.  

    Periodically, I would spot a small scale logging operation.  At one, a lone pine tree had been cut down and was being hand-hewn into a beam, right where it lay, propped, so it wouldn’t roll down the hill.  Seeing that pine was the main tree species in the forests was a surprise to me.  I always pictured Guatemala as being jungly.

    Most of the trees had been limbed quite high, say 20 feet.  I assume the cut-off branches were used as firewood.  Having the trees limbed allowed sunlight onto the forest floor where the Mayans grew their crops, between and beneath the tall pines.

    The area around the city of Huehuetenango was very dry and reminiscent of Kamloops, BC.  Surprisingly, the area exports a lot of coffee.  As we passed through the town, I saw a funeral parlor whose name was something like:  “El Ultimo Adios”  which seemed pretty appropriate.  Our bus pulled into the bus depot for a 30 minute stop.

    I was hesitant to get off of the bus, fearing I would lose my good seat in the very front row that enabled me to look out of the bus’s windshield, but when I saw the bus helpers make a frail old Indian lady who didn’t want to leave, get off, I knew everyone had to.

    I found a much needed bathroom in the depot, had a Coke, and looked up stuff in my guide book.  When I glanced outside, I noticed that our bus had disappeared, but I figured it would be back.  When it did return, there was a mad rush out of the depot toward the bus.  Bus Helper #1 who was standing in the door of the bus, yelled and tried to get the teeming millions back onto the sidewalk.

    He then pointed to me and motioned me back onto the bus, while he threatening the mob with the police, if they didn’t stay back on the sidewalk.  The other Gringos were also allowed back on the bus, as they filtered their way through the anxious crowd.

    A bus employee escorted his young wife and child, as well as a black and white portable television set, onto the bus and sat her, the child, and TV, beside me in the front row.  I watched through the window as an official from the Condor Bus Company walked out of the depot with a paper full of names.  He stood blocking the bus doorway, reading names from the list and those passengers were then allowed to board.

    When he got to the end of the list of names, he just picked among the pleading faces, those privileged, to board the bus.  Once the chosen had boarded, the bus was once again tightly packed with passengers. 

    The bus employee who had brought his young wife, who was sitting beside me, reentered the bus and instructed his wife, the kid, and myself, to stand up and move away from our seat.  He then unhooked the seat cushion from its frame, pulled the window end of the seat cushion (my end) forward, toward the barrier, where it was put in place in that new, angled position, and he then motioned for us to sit back down on it.

    I guess this tweaking of the seat position was meant to free-up room (maybe 10 inches) allowing another passenger to sit at the aisle end of the seat with their legs jutting into the crowded aisle.  This new arrangement certainly didn’t do anything to make my life more comfortable.

    When I then sat down, I realized I was now squeezed against the window.  Beside me was the wife holding the portable television.  Beside her sat her two and a half year old son, and next to him at the end of the seat, perched another guy.  This is how we spent the next four hours.

    As the bus hit the road, I could feel my knees began getting more and more tender as they chafed against the barrier which they now touched.  The muscles in my buttocks began to complain about being confined in a constricted position from which they could not escape.  I shifted my weight as much as I could, but the relief was only temporary.

    When the bus made another stop at a creek for more radiator water, I took the opportunity to stand in place for three minutes, but the three minutes were fleeting, and I unenthusiastically returned to my cramped sitting position.

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Monday 18 September 2023

1987 Travel Diary: Things Get Crazy on the Chicken Bus

The old school bus was now totally solidly packed with passengers, three squeezed into each bench seat and the rest standing shoulder to shoulder all the way down the aisle, but more passengers kept jamming themselves through the doorway, under the encouragement of the bus helpers.  With the seats overflowing, they were forced to squeeze those already standing in the aisle, into an even tighter mass.

One of the last to board, an old thin-mustached Mayan man wearing a fancy old pair of winged female glasses, found his place standing directly in front of me on the steps down to the bus door.  He clung tightly to the horizontal metal bar atop the barrier that separated the passenger seats from the stairs, trying to keep his balance, as The Condor darted back onto the highway.    

The bus was barreling down the mountain road with its door open.  One of the bus helpers was riding mostly outside the bus, with one foot secured on the lower step of the bus, steadying himself by hanging on to the rearview mirror mounted on the side of the bus.   I don’t know what the other helper was standing on, but he was totally outside the bus as it streaked down the highway, hanging on with both hands to the edge of an open window.

Inside the bus, all of humanity; those in stuffed into the seats and those standing tightly-packed like vertical sardines, all swayed in unison with the turns and gyrations of the bus.

Sitting beside me in the front seat was a farmer and beside him, a peasant man with a little girl on his lap.  The young girl was holding a woven plastic bag that squawked, whenever those standing in the aisle squashed against the bag, as they shifted their balance on the curves.  

Things then got even more bizarre when one of the helpers, who had been riding outside the bus, worked himself inside and up the steps.  Gripping the vertical pole at the aisle end of the low barrier beside the stairs, he put one foot on the top of the barrier in front of me and swung himself over me so that he had one foot on top of the barrier, and the other foot on the horizontal bar that ran atop the back of our seat.

He had straddled the top of the barrier and the back of our seat with his rear end directly above me, solidly propped against the rounded curve of the school bus wall.  Once secure in this three-point position, he leaned down and commenced hitting up the passengers for the bus ride ticket money.  Having collected the fare from everyone in our seat, he spider-walked himself using the tops of the seat backs, to collect from the people in the seat behind us.  In this fashion he worked himself all the way to the rear of the bus and then forward on seats on the opposite side of the aisle.  Along the way, he also collected the fare from the solidly-packed upright sardines standing in the aisle.

About this time, I noticed the head of a chicken poke out of the little girl’s bag.  Once it saw how ridiculous and chaotic the surrounding situation was outside the bag, it ducked its head back down in the bag, and I never saw its head poke out again.

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Sunday 17 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Entering Guatemala

      An early start; again I beat the alarm which I had set for 5:45, and again I woke up with rumblings in my lower digestive tract, and again the Lomotil seems to be holding things together.

It was a cold misty walk through the streets of San Cristobal, empty except for a lone guy on a bicycle and an elderly Indian woman scampering across the street toward the lit facade of the old cathedral.

    I patiently waited in the bus station, happy that I had finished reading the awful “Artifact” novel, so I no longer had to tolerate its stupidity.  I left it behind for some other sucker to read.   After a twenty minute wait I was able to board the bus to Cuauhtemoc, which is located on the Guatemalan boarder.  The ride just outside of San Cristobal was picturesque, with the dawning sky illuminating the low lying morning smoke coming from the thatched Indian huts, that dotted the land beside the limestone hills.

    It was another madman driver who raced us down the narrow highway, dodging everything in sight:  horses, trucks, and old ladies with their grandchildren, honking his horn, and de-accelerating each time the 95 MPH warning on the bus dashboard started buzzing.  When we reached Cuauhtemoc bus station, a group of us Gringos shared a cab to the Guatemalan border.

    I didn’t know what to expect when we reached the Mexican/Guatemalan border, but once there, a Mexican Official came up to me and took my Mexican Tourist card, then indicated to me that I should walk across the border.  I slowly did that, not sure about what would happen next.  I was somewhat reassured to see that the other Gringo taxi passengers followed me.

    Once on the Guatemalan side, an official gave me a Guatemalan Tourist Card and asked me the expected questions (How long was I going to stay?  What was I going to do?)  I had to pay him 2,000 Mexican Pesos, and then he was finished with me, so I walked outside.  A Guatemalan solder who was standing just outside the door, motioned me over toward another official who wanted to examine my passport, after which he gave me another card of some kind.  He asked me if I wanted to exchange some money, which I did, so I handed him a US $5.00 bill and a 2,000 Mexican Peso bill.  In return I was given 14 Guatemalan Quetzals.

    Once all that official stuff was done, I wandered out onto the street, pondering my next move.  I noticed a white and gray school bus, with the name, “The Condor” parked nearby, so I thought maybe the school bus-type vehicle took us to a town where I could catch a regular more modern passenger bus, so I walked over to ask the man standing by the bus door, and he just motioned me into the bus. 

    The bus driver, a small man with glasses, wavy hair, and a thin, sparse, long beard, took my green suitcase and stuck it out of the way, by the gearshift.  I am always sort of hesitant about parting with my luggage when I travel, but since I took a seat on the front row on the passenger side of the bus, my green suitcase was sitting practically in front of me, so I didn’t put up a fuss.

    When the other 4 Gringo passengers got onto the bus, some of their luggage went outside, on top of the bus.  The old school bus was practically empty of passengers as we started on our way,  it was only us and the three Condor employees; they just hung around the front of the bus talking to the driver.  As our  near empty “Chicken Bus” proceeded down the narrow highway, it picked up about twenty peasant-looking Indians.  As they boarded, a bus helper took their machetes and piled them by the door.

    The old Condor school bus sped down the empty highway, until we were forced to stop at a military roadblock.  (The Guatemalan government was engaged in a fight against a rebel Mayan group at the time.)  A soldier in a green polyester uniform boarded the bus and one of the bus helpers motioned that I and the other Gringos should get off the bus.  He grabbed my green suitcase and put it on my seat, near the door, and beside the window.  

    I was bewildered again, as I obeyed the military man’s instructions, I got off of the bus, and walked up to the porch of the building.  There I was confronted with an official who carefully examined my passport and cards.  As he was dealing with my documents, I watched a huge crowd of peasants enter the Condor bus, and with some concern, saw my green suitcase come out of the bus’s door, carried by one of the bus helpers, who threw it up to another helper who was on the bus roof, and there it was deposited.

    When I returned to the Condor bus I could hardly get through the door, because the bus was so packed with passengers, but to my great surprise, I found that my seat had been saved for me.

    The old Condor school bus again started on its way, honking at vehicles, and small groups of Mayan Indians walking along the roadway.  As I was jostled back and forth in my seat I wondered how far we would have to go before we came to the next town, and maybe get a regular big bus to Guatemala City, but my thoughts were interrupted when the bus slowed and an unbelievable thing happened—it stopped and picked up more passengers.

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