Postcards from the West 2
Its just after New Year and time for another update. I have been here over 2 months now. After the first round of elections had finished I have been doing some travelling. There seems to be some hope that things will improve here with the new government that is expected to take over. I have to admit my grasp of the politics is not great but corruption is rife and the weird form of capitalism here means there are the very rich and the very poor ……….. but obviously a lot more of the latter. Most businesses in Guatemala are owned by 7 families. The Castillos being one ….. my first two interviews here were both Castillos. You definitely need to be wealthy middleclass in Guatemala to be a creative freelancer and even for them its hard to jump out of the traditional routes.
I headed for the Pacific for some beach and sun after the elections. A friend of a friend has fishing boats down there so I got a lift down with him. We went to an art opening at one of the hotels in Antigua, free wine, raclette and a sunset view from the rooftop. Then we hopped in the pickup and drove down the side of the volcanic range of the highlands to the pacific plain which is very different territory, flatter, arable land and fewer indigenous people …………. And a completely different climate, hotter and more humid. We crossed a canal by driving onto a tiny boat that floated across the small stretch and then headed for the beach. My first sight of the pacific! Next day I walked down the beach and then laid in a hammock and read my book. At 5.30 in the evening the turtle conservation centre organizes a bit of tourist fun to get money for the projects to save the sea turtles. They release the recently hatched baby turtles into the sea but turn it into a kind of race the first turtle over the line gets its sponsor a free dinner in one of the hotels. I watched but didn’t get a turtle … I felt a bit sorry for them to tell you the truth! Probably being too sentimental and British.
The following weekend I went up to the Lake (Attilan) with a friend of mine. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains, brightly coloured shrubs and flowers lining the road. We arrived at Panajachal and had lunch and a quick look at the stalls there before getting the boat to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is a tiny village with a couple of hotels on the lakeside. We spent the evening with a random group of hippies and tourists. Next day I swam in the lake walked up a valley and then laid in a hammock overlooking the lake. That night at the Iguana Café we partied until the early hours and then went swimming in the lake just as the sun was coming up. The water was beautiful.
My next trip was with a Guatemalan friend who I have met in Antigua, Amalia, she is beautiful and great fun …. Her boyfriend is Uruguayan footballer and is working in Jakarta of all places. She used to live and work in Rio Dulce so we took an early morning shuttle down there and then a small boat out to our hotel which was like a tree house in the jungle on the water. It was Amalia’s birthday so we went dancing at the only place in town called Backpackers bar to Salsa music, 80’s pop and a little bit of hip hop thrown in. Fat rich old men try to lure young girls onto their expensive boats and seem immune to rejection, its amazing what testosterone and a bit of money does to a Latin man or any man actually I suppose.
My research (an extension of my masters thesis) is going really well and it is proving to be the best way of meeting interesting people as well as interesting work. So far I have interviewed 4 film directors and one furniture designer, I have another 6 interviews lined up. I have met a Guatemalan who did his thesis on the Guatemalan film industry, he is sending it to me and we may collaborate on something ………… although things happen very slowly here. I am amazed how quickly I am finding my interviewees though and all have them have fascinating stories to tell. I have been invited to some film screenings and tomorrow will meet up with the man who runs the art centre in Antigua. He is running creativity courses for Mayan people at his centre.
I also have found my first coaching client who wants to start in January. He is French and taking a year sabbatical to think about what he wants to do next. I am hoping I might get a few more clients in January as Antigua is more expensive than other parts of Guatemala and I’m having to watch my money.
I was planning on going to Cuba for Christmas and New Year but now I have decided to wait until my Spanish is better and I can persuade someone to go with me. I may not be able to afford it, Cuba is much more expensive as a tourist they say.
I was planning to go to the Bay Islands for Christmas and New Year stopping off at the Copan Ruins just over the Guatemalan border along the way. But I think I may do that in January now as the weather has been bad on the Atlantic side – windy and stormy.
A friend of Anj’s and Hector’s, a guy called Ricky has been back in town for a few days and everyone has been partying. He is a larger than life character and makes things happen in town. His family has a beautiful house on the lake and a whole crowd of us went up there for a few days. The only way to get to the house is by boat and it was right on the waters’ edge, the sunsets across the lake were amazing. It really is a magical place Lake Atitlan.
My impressions of Guatemala and Central America are growing and changing all the time. It is such a place of contradictions – a mix of the old and the new. You forget how much suffering has happened in this country, the people are so gentle and smiling that you cannot associate them with the terrible violence. Some bits of the country really are the Wild West and kidnapping is a real problem here. Being the son or daughter of a rich Guatemalan means that you need a bodyguard. Most of the trouble happens around Guatemala City between the gangs in the shanty towns. I have had a lot of advice from my Guatemalan friends and as a woman you just have to accept that there are things you can’t do alone. My apartment is right in the middle of Antigua but still my friends walk me home at night. I can’t go on a bike ride outside Antigua alone. It seems so strange as when I go with my friends all the villagers smile and wave and you feel so safe and welcome. The macho culture still prevails here and women are expected to be submissive although some of them break out of the mould. Things are changing very slowly and the filmmakers here feel the responsibility of telling some of those stories.
On Christmas Day I caught a chicken bus into Guatemala City to have Christmas lunch at my friend’s parents, the sun was shining I squeezed into a seat next to an indigenous family and as soon as we left town the driver switched the music from the usual Salsa to The Best of the Beatles. It was surreal …………