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Santiago Atitlan
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a new year
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year 2
Santiago Sacatepequez
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UK in winter
Caye Caulker
El Salvador
year 3
Carnival Trinidad
Rio Dulce
Semuc Champey
journey's end


Guatemala Journal

Guatemala Journal


 journey's end

Reprinted with permission from Silver Queen Preservation News, Summer 2006. The original title was Coming Home to Georgetown.

11 julio
As I drove into Georgetown at dusk, the red brick Visitor Center loomed like an old train station, perfectly framed under the highway bridge. I checked the time on the clock tower against my watch, to make sure I had adjusted it for the time change. The shop windows on Sixth Street were lit, with just enough evening light to see colors in the Victorian buildings that stood at attention amid silhouettes of mountain ridges.

I have just returned to Colorado from three years in Guatemala, where I taught at an American international school. I had come home periodically for brief vacations during that period, but this time I look forward to settling in for six months. I walked around town early the first morning back, and watched shop and restaurant owners opening their doors. People were tending gardens around the hotel, watering window boxes, getting ready for the day. I had almost forgotten how busy the streets are with tourists at this time of year - wandering, photographing, eating ice cream. Looking for familiar faces to greet, I too was wandering.

During the first few weeks, I noticed little things that mark differences in culture. Although Coloradans think they have problems with road rage, I found that drivers here are generally courteous and obedient of the rules. In Guatemala, as my son commented after driving a short stretch years ago, street signs and lines on the road are just polite suggestions, and aggression is the norm. After a restaurant dinner here, the check is dropped on your table promptly. In most places in Central America, it would be rude to bring the check before you ask for it, you are encouraged to linger as long as you like. Most welcome of all is the clean, fresh air. Gone are the black clouds that trail buses and old pickups - I have heard it said that living in Guatemala City is like smoking over two packs of cigarettes a day.

One of the things I missed most was hiking in the mountains. I joined Orion, the yellow lab I raised, now living with local friends, and his current owners as they followed a path above the railroad bed, under the high bridge, and down to the creek, aspen trees rustling in a gentle wind. No one with an automatic weapon or machete accompanied us for safety. Here, friends and dogs meet on the trail and there is always time for a few words of greeting.

I have marched in the July 4th Friends of the Library kazoo band in Georgetown every July 4th except one for the last 15 years. This year was to be no exception. After running around town in the 5K Walk/Run, I put on my festive red, white and blue gear and hustled down to the ball field. The participants gathered, a different mix every year, and we practiced the loosely choreographed dances to those lively kazoo renditions of standard American tunes, our numbers growing with newcomers as we performed. Along the parade route, cheering spectators lined the streets in a joyous celebration, although I would still have enjoyed the ceremony even without the audience.

I had been the tourist in Latin America during the past few years, but now I played tour guide for visiting friends, fellow teachers from Guatemala who were passing through - a perfect excuse for revisiting some special places. We took a cautious drive to the top of Mt. Evans, where we communed with mountain goats and drove down in the hail; rode on the new Loop Railroad in the rain; looked for beaver in the ponds on Guanella Pass Road; and spent a few hours of tuneful harmony with the Sunday night music-makers at Grumpy's Roadhouse in Silver Plume.

But the heart of the historic district is not in the buildings, the landscape or events. It is in the individuals who live here. Despite the historic theme, this is very much a living, active place. I am amazed at the variety and depth of projects that people are involved in, the interests they are researching, and their heartfelt commitments to worthy causes that improve and enrich this community: the imagination and energy that has created the charter school, soon to open; the pending acquisition and restoration of the old schoolhouse; the intricate play place in the park full of children; continuing negotiations on the proposed highway expansion and its impact; and the purchase of the peaceful green valley surrounding Beaver Brook, now part of the county's protected lands.

The student body in the Guatemalan school where I taught was very international. Most of the parents worked for embassies, governmental aid groups, non-profits, and companies. The families would stay two to five years and then transfer to a new country, learn a new language, and adjust to a new culture. This mature, sophisticated, adaptable group of young people was a joy to teach. However, if you asked them where they considered home, they might not have an answer, for many had no place where they felt rooted. Although I have spent most of my life living in cities, there is a sense of belonging here, of making a difference in a small town, that I have felt nowhere else. It's good to be home.

-->watch for Praha Journal (or Prague Blog?), January 2007


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