Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The Adventure to Guatemala: Part 1
As I entered the terminal at La Aurora International Airport, I studied the faces of men and women from a different world. This was my first flight within Central America and I didn't see a single gringo lining up to get his or her ticket checked before stepping onto the plane. Guatemala was the first country I knew I would travel to before I even mored to Costa Rica. I wanted to see where Marleny, my family's housekeeper since I was three, grew up; I wanted to meet her family. I wanted to experience Central America.
In the last decade, only 5% of the murders in Guatemala were prosecuted. The number of kidnappings have quintupled; annual murder rates have risen from 2904 to 6498. Despite new penalties for femicide, they are considered useless in a country where so many murders go unsolved.
These dangers stem from poverty, which is impossible not to notice if you look out the airplane window as the plane hits the runaway in Guatemala City. Between the forests and rolling hills are dilapidated homes as far as the eye can see.
The first thing you can't help but notice when you step out of the airport are the Mayans, Nearly half the population consists of "indigenas" clad in traditional garb - striped skirts, ornate blouses, and long, beaded necklaces for the women with braided hair, cowboy-like sombreros for the men. The Mayans may be the poorest people in the country, but they possess an incredible richness in history and culture. It was to an ancient city, Antigua, where I was headed, to which my friend, Reuben, who traveled the slither of land from Costa Rica to Guatemala, described as, "the Jerusalem of Costa Rica".
Marleny's niece, her husband, and their three daughters, ages 15, 17, and 19, picked me up at the airport. Cesar, who has a note written by one of his daughters above the desk in his office that states, "el mejor papi del mundo", rented a van just to have enough room for me and my luggage (which was only a backpack).
After lunch at a nearby mall, we set off for Antigua. Not only does Antigua retain its beauty through colonial building and ancient ruins, but it is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. But I only knew of them through books and photographs. By the time we left lunch, a deep fog had taken over the sky, and it started to rain. Hard.
In the midst of a thunderstorm, Cesar Palacio took the wheel, dodging potholes left and right, on the road to Antigua. The three daughters were in the back , playing with their blackberries, and Mirna was silently observing. When our tires hit the cobblestone streets, I could tell, despite the horrid weather, that Antigua was a special place. In fact, Antigua looked pretty in the rain, heavy droplets falling in front of the lights of the Catedral de Santiago. I studied the local dwellings, built with mud, stones, and wooden poles "bajareque" style, through the blurred car window. Perhaps this was the way Antigua should be seen - the city has stood the test of time, surviving earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and has retained its traditional charm, not unlike that of Kyoto, Japan.
All was fine as we ran back into the van and left the ancient city. But on the road back to Guatemala City, Cesar was unable to avoid one of the many potholes. One was all it took.
Part 2 soon to come...