Lake Atitlan
chicken bus

Santiago Atitlan
Independence Day
language school

a new year
Semana Santa
las Americas
Machu Picchu
year 2
Santiago Sacatepequez
lake weekend
UK in winter
Caye Caulker
El Salvador
year 3
Carnival Trinidad
Rio Dulce
Semuc Champey
journey's end



Guatemala Journal



2 abril
At the beginning of this school year, Kristine, a young Guatemalan teacher, asked me if I would grant permission for her mother to paint two of my photographs. I was honored that an accomplished painter would choose my images. I agreed, and asked to see the paintings when there are done.

I was invited for lunch to meet the artist. This afternoon, I visited my images in acrylic at the home of Sra. Estella S. de Bernhard. Before lunch, we walked around the house and she told me the story of each painting hanging on her walls. The arches in Antigua that are no longer there, destroyed in an earthquake. Houses in a finca (farm) in the Altiplano (high plains), where the neighbors would gather to watch her paint outside, then they would ask if she would paint their house. A scrapbook filled with photos of paintings she sold or gave to family. The finished canvas of my image of a woman walking under the white archways in Antigua was stunning. The second painting, still taking shape, was on an easel in her studio, surrounded by other works. Estella gave me a small painting I admired as a gift.

Lunch was delightful, with Kristine and her three well-behaved children. After lunch, the maid came in and said that the Pope had died. We talked about religion, cultural differences and personal histories until late afternoon. Once again, I was humbled by my guest showing me to the door with the parting phrase "Mi casa es su casa." Driving back, I passed the statue of Juan Pablo with arms outstretched on Avenida las Americas. The platform where the statue stood was crowded with mourners, flowers strewn around the park before him.

20 abril
I was in Quito just last week, and today the president of Ecuador was ousted by the congress and the vice president sworn in to take his place. In December, Gutierrez replaced the Supreme Court with his own appointees. There has been escalating protests and political turmoil since then. There were demonstrations in the downtown streets last week while I was attending a conference, and the school where my workshop was held was closed. Not a student to be seen. For a change, obtaining the local currency was easy on this trip - the dollar is the official currency, the sucre was 25,000 to the dollar when it was abandoned in 2000.

The educational conference was organized by two associations of Central and South American schools. The technology track laid the groundwork for a new consortium of schools using Blackboard, the online course platform used in many colleges and universities, and more recently K-12 schools. I shared a room with Claudia, a Guatemalan friend and technology coordinator of another American school. We were sheltered from the political activity on the quiet campus, had a crash course in the software from a systems administration viewpoint, and enjoyed getting to know the school representatives from Mexico south - including a late night at a Quito disco with some of our new friends. I would return and recommend that we join the consortium knowing full well that next year (yes, I have signed up for another year) I will have a lot of work to do to implement it and train the faculty.

Quito sits in a mountain valley at an altitude of 9,200 ft circled by blue Andean volcanoes. Many of the streets leading to the old center of the city are as hilly as San Francisco, if you can picture that city covered with old Spanish architecture, tall windows with compact balconies rimmed with ironwork, ornate stonework. A statue of the winged Virgin of Panecillo watches over Quito from a high point, visible from most places in the city center. I walked along Calle de los Siete Cruces (street of seven crosses) with as many churches, each with its own character. The traditional central plaza, with its municipal buildings, fountain and museums, is an active gathering place. When I flew in, I noticed many of the buildings were multistoried rectangles. A taxi driver verified the observation that most people in the city live in apartments rather than houses.

On Sunday morning, four of us hired a driver and made our way north on winding mountain roads to Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world, where the equator crosses South America. We were a bit early, so Pepe, our driver, suggested some nearby points of interest. In the center of a collapsed volcanic crater of Pululahua, there is now a picturesque patchwork of fertile farmlands. A local volunteer, with colorful dress and hat, greeted us. He asked me to bring my family over to hear his talk, which I dutifully did after explaining about our little group of educators. Starting over three times, until our group was complete, his carefully rehearsed and oft repeated English rendition of the history of the crater was illustrated by maps and diagrams in a well worn notebook.

I still enjoy those corny moments - standing with a foot in each hemisphere, like every other tourist. A grand promenade of busts, famous Ecuadorians I assume, lead up to the Mitad del Mundo monument, a recent construction a few miles from an older site. We made one more stop to visit the ruins of Pucará de Rumicucho, an old Inca fort. As we climbed the ancient stone stairs, we soon realized there was a spectacular panoramic view of the valley. The Incas had chosen well. High mountain wildflowers dotted the path.

After dropping off two in our group at the airport, Pepe brought me to the charming little ivy covered hotel I had found for my last night in Quito. A historic building, it had once been two large homes, now run by a redhaired woman who spoke fluent Spanish with a lovely French lilt. The director of a Honduran school, who had engaged Pepe on several trips early that week, came in with me to see the Hotel Antinea. He had been bragging earlier that the school would pay for him to stay one more night at the Marriott. I believe I detected a note of envy as he looked at the intimate European style lobby and courtyard. In my room, I stepped out on the little balcony, just big enough for one person or two lovers, and breathed the cool afternoon air of the quiet tiled street.

With time left to explore, I investigated the streets in my new neighborhood and discovered that, as is the custom along one of the major streets in Guatemala City, Avenida las Amazonas was closed to traffic on Sundays - walkers and cyclists took over. A long mural depicting famous people and places of Ecuador adorned one section of the avenue. Then I headed back to the city center seeking the Municipal Museum. I had read about the paintings of Guayasaman (and had seen his portrait in the mural), and thought I had located an exhibit of his work. I found some pleasing collages instead, paintings and textiles of rooms, doors and windows, inviting places. I asked at the entrance about the exhibit and found that I was talking with the artist, Guayasaman's daughter. I complimented her creations and, with a small bow, she asked me to sign her guestbook.

Not having a very good sense of direction, I often wander streets at random, follow people, look for landmarks, ask for directions and once I am sufficiently lost, hail a taxi back to my hotel, relatively inexpensive in Latin American cities. It usually proves to be a reasonable formula for navigating and sometimes leads me to places I would never have found by keeping to the tourist maps. This time a pickpocket found me, opening a front pocket in my backpack while I was taking a photo. The thief didn't get much, a tube of lipstick and a little bottle of eye drops, but it prompted me to reconsider where I stash things when I venture out.

There are not many direct flights out of Guatemala - the returning route stopped in Guayaquil (Ecuador), Panama City and Managua (Nicaragua). Sometimes it feels strange to be coming "home" to Guatemala after a trip, I'm always thinking the plane will land in the Colorado mountains. Still traveling...


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