Time Travel 1977 Mexico to Guatemala: Socialists, Hippies, Haircuts, and Screwdrivers…
Continued from previous…
Oaxaca is burning. Isn’t it always? The Revolution of 1910 was Mexico’s ‘permanent revolution’, ensuring that disgruntled democrats and befuddled Bolsheviks would forever find something to complain about—Mexico’s ‘perfect dictatorship’. Mexico’s rites of protest are a perfect counterweight to its lack of development and chronic corruption.
This time they’re burning buses, so I get a van south to Tehuantepec, on the Isthmus, that serves as Mexico’s narrowest point, and once in play for the canal that became Panama, so but for some quirk of fate we might be reading about the ‘Tehuantepec papers’ today. But not before being held up at screwdriver-point in the market in Oaxaca. Huh?
I was negotiating for an ice-cream when an interested bystander pulls a screwdriver on me—in broad daylight! I almost burst out laughing! “Don’t you have a Phillips-head?” I shoulda’ said. But I didn’t. I just gave him the money I had in my hand—not much. Enjoy your ice cream.
Tehuantepec is famous for its Amazon ladies, who control the marketplace and likely much more, their huipil blouses immortalized in adornment of Frida Kahlo’s comely countenance and bushy brows. And the market’s pretty nice, too, but the town ain’t much, and hotter than Hell. There’s an ocean not far away, but that doesn’t help much here.
At the Tehuantepec train station, it’s a matter of ‘hurry up and wait’, hour after hour after hour. Fortunately I’m not alone. First there is Jim, from Michigan, then Shannon and Dorothy from Albuquerque. By the time the train from Mexico City finally shows up—eleven hours late(!)—we are all fast friends. We finally get on board and continue our journey, a day later and a dollar shorter, clickety clackety, clickety clackety…
Once in Tapachula, the main order of business is to procure a visa for Guatemala. There is only one problem—me.
“Corte el pelo,” the man at the consulate says.
I’m dumbfounded. “Huh? You mean… get a haircut, really?”
He nods. Fortunately Shannon and Dorothy agree to do it, so I don’t have to sit there with a Mexican’s razor at my throat, but still…
“Nice,” the nice man at the consulate says, and I kind of have to agree. When would I have cut my hair otherwise? He gives me a multiple-entry visa good for the life of my passport. We’re back on the road—which is good, since the city of Tapachula has little to commend it, generic Mexico, tacos and beer, and life on the installment plan.
GUATEMALA CITY 1/28-30
Guatemala is totally different. This is the Third World. Guatemala is to Mexico as Mexico is to the USA, so if the second world is Socialist—and Mexico, we’re down to abject poverty here in Guatemala. The road to the capital mostly follows the lowland plantations, bus stopping at hot steamy towns along the way, with kids swarming the buses, selling cold drinks in plastic bags, and fried greasy snacks on sticks and in banana-leaf wrappers. My favorites are the chuchos, Guatemalan mini-tamales. The same word means ‘dog’ in Guatemalan Spanish.
We go to the Hotel Ejecutivo, in Zona 1, kinda’ pricey at two bucks a head. There’s a guy staying here who’s lost his passport to some whore with designs on her mind. I think I could find a better place than Guatemala to go whoring, though the native Maya girls ARE cute. He’s probably still there.
Shannon and Dorothy are buying textiles for their shop in Albuquerque, so that’s my first introduction to that activity, which will later become MY activity. But they have something of an itinerary to follow, so after accompanying them to Guatemala City, like dutiful male bodyguards, Jim and I take our leave of them, and then we start making plans for Panajachel, aka ‘Gringotenango’ out in the western highlands (and hippie central).
Shannon and Dorothy are going to Antigua, which is much closer and a much more sublime experience, with nicer restaurants and drinks by the fountain, etc., but not so much indigenous culture. So we part company, though Shannon and I became fast friends. Shannon was an angel flying low on holiday. And then it hits me: women are just people! You can be friends with them! This is huge! My life will never be the same.
The ‘bus terminal,’ if you want to call it that, is located in zone 4 of Guat City, a combination market and tranportation center to the western highlands. Calle 18 has real Greyhound-style buses leaving from more comfortable locations, but the retired US school buses that serve points west meet in a common yard that is combination market/freight depot/bus terminal.
It is pretty bad, but you have to know that these rigs are piled high with all kinds of freight and produce. The indigenous area of Guatemala is somehow a fully functioning relic of the old Indian America, and this is how it works. Next stop: Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan…
to be continued…