Time Travel Guatemala 1977: Xela and Antigua, all too Chichi …

Continued from previous…   

February 1977

CHICHICASTENANGO

If you gotta’ get away from la dolce vita at Panajachel, then Chichicastenango is where you start.  It’s accessible by an easy day-trip from Panajachel, sardine express, or you can stay here—alone.  When there’s no market, the place is empty—of tourists and locals!  This was a revelation to me, that indigenous people would pour into a semi-urban area for markets and festivities, then disappear back into the countryside from where they came, just like they always have, confirming the role of ruins as occasional ceremonial centers.  They still are!

But a good fiesta is the deal if you can swing it with the timing.  Every town and village in Guatemala has one, the eponymous fiesta for the town’s patron saint, in this case Santo Tomas.  Every town and village has two names, a local indigenous one and that of its patron saint.  Fiestas can go on for days, though one day is usually the biggest.  Every person has two names, also, a Catholic first name and an indigenous surname, unless they identify exclusively with ladinos.

memoria 001The festival in Chichi draws in tens of thousands of local Indians to celebrate and go to market, even bigger than usual.  There’s only one problem: I got pick-pocketed in a heavy crowd, the old bump-and-grab routine.  When you notice the bump, you won’t notice the grab.  You won’t know until you go for it again.  Live and learn.  Fortunately the wallet didn’t have much money, or my passport.  That’s what passport bags are for.  Thank God for cheap tourist junk!  I think I’ll try some place with fewer tourists.

XELA (Quezaltenango)

This is one cold mother, high up in the Guatemalan highlands and ‘ground zero’ for indigenous culture in the surrounding area, plus Guatemala’s second-largest city in its own right.  But at an altitude of 2300mt/7500ft, it’s cold here, brrrr…

And there’s not much to do, either…

And fried chicken is what passes for haute cuisine.  I’m starting to miss hamburgers, and granola, and yogurt (thanks, David)—and… and… PIES.  Yes, pies are what I miss, of every class and kind, sort and genre—apple pineapple beet rhubarb coconut cream and limon meringue…

IMG_0475Did I mention that’s it’s colder than….?  I gotta’ get out of here, back to some social intercourse… I mean… I hear that this is a good place to live with a family while learning Spanish, but that’s what they say about Antigua, too, and it’s much warmer… and it’s much closer to Guat City, for whatever that’s worth.

It’s funny, that Guatemala City is only 200km/124mi from Xela, but it’ll probably take you most of the day to get here, lotsa’ curves you bet, and even more when you get… to the junction… ‘Cuatro Caminos’ and ‘Los Encuentros’: towns grow at the crossroads of travel…

ANTIGUA

Antigua is the alternative to the groovy scene in Pana, of course, making up with colonial ruins and elegance what it lacks in indigenous culture.  I think there’s some symmetry there.  There are lots of cemeteries here, too, scattered amidst the ruins, mostly bodies twisted in agony, I suspect.  Does anybody really rest in peace?

But Antigua is the closest thing Guatemala has yet to a spiffy resort town.  It’ll happen.  Just give it a little time.  I’ve seen the future.  But behind all the klick-wide watermelon smiles, there lurks a darkness in Guatemala that goes back to the Conquest and before, a darkness in which a human life is worthless, bodies stacked like cord-wood and sent to the coast for forced farm labor or dealt with summarily by close-range coups de grace if they fight for their rights by joining the left.

IMG_0472There’s a war going on here, but you’d never know it by the gleam in the eyes of the diners by candlelight, who can’t decide whether to try the chocolate mousse or stick to the tried and true apple pie with flaky crust.  Meanwhile Indian peasants in the fields and villages toil for pennies with their plots of corn and rows of beans, splashing water to irrigate the raised rows, water that will take its sweet time and get used a thousand times on its way to the sea.

The war stopped, at least for a little while, one year ago today, when the earth trembled and the mountains shook, and the peasants laid down their little read book, just long enough to dig out and re-fit the adobe walls that hold up tile roofs, until they tumble down again like rain on a conga drum, no reinforcement wanted or needed for lives too short to count.  So for now that’s the way it stands—barely.  Evidence of the earthquake is everywhere, but the war is safely hidden—for the time being.  That won’t last…

 

Advertisements