Saturday, November 8, 2014

Guatemala City: A Visiting Giant

Arriving in Guatemala City after 8+ hours in transit (the highlight of which was spotting a herd of Air Japan stwardesses in their matched uniforms with frothy scarves prance through the terminal in 3-inch heels), my initial impression was something like what I imagine a giraffe feels when it stands up for the very first time.  Due to what I can only attribute to extreme poverty, poor nutrition, and perhaps some genetic factors, the majority of Guatemalans whom I enountered came up to about the tops of my breasts.  It's a little strange, even for someone who's used to being large in a thin-woman's world, to stand almost half a torso taller than the crowd disembarking around you.

I know that a number of travel books and bloggers will advise tourists to get off the plane and hop straight onto a bus for Antigua, but in the end, I was glad I took a couple days to visit the city. It was noisy, crowded, smelly, and probably a bit dangerous without basic precautions... and it was also worth visiting on the weekend, if for nothing else than a trip to the Calle Real and Central Plaza.  If at all possible, I'd suggest visiting on a weekend; the music, performers, food, vendors, and people-watching are Aces.  The cultural blend of Mayan and Spanish customs, blended with Caribbean and African triats brought over by slaves after the colonization, are fairly rote expectations for a visit to any Central American country; but it's only in Guatemala that I've ever heard Irish rock, performed in Spanish, and accompanied by a Garifuna gentleman playing bagpipes. Or graffiti that I an really only describe as Indiginous, Slutty Virgin Mary.

Of course poverty was visible.  Of course there were beggars in the streets, and little old women wearing clothes that very much looked as though they were homemade and on the verge of decay.  But there were affluent, very westernized people in Guatemala City too.  The young, rich Guatemalans out for their Saturday night dates dressed in precisely the same clothes I see on the semi-Hipster crowds down 2nd Street in Brick City.  There's really nothing surprising about that to me; but I find that when I tell people about my trip, they ask questions on the line of "did you get a lot of stares for not wearing a poncho?" and other ignorant inquiries on about that line.  Blue jeans are basically universal... though, admitedly, they are a bigger luxury in some countries than others.

I spent most of Sunday exploring the after-Church market (Guatemala is still a predominantly Catholic country) and arranging tickets for the over-night bus to Tikal.  The food in the streets was a major highlight -- grilled, spiced meats; tamales; fresh fruit with salt and spices sprinkled over them; frozen bananas dipped in chocolate, which is less of a regional speciality and more of a personal favorite.  I grabbed a few beers -- Gallo appears to be the national cerveza of choice -- and set off for the red-tiled island of Flores (gateway to the Pyramids) with a better appreciation for what everyday life looks like outside of Guatemala's tourism industry.

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