The trip from Huehuetenango to Antigua was a blur of lush tropical mountain forest and floating plastic baggies. I don’t know where all those baggies came from out in the middle of nowhere. There were road side vendors here and there and everything was sold in those plastic baggies but I don’t think the road side vendors could account for the quantity of baggies that I saw floating on the breeze during that trip.
The highway consisted of two lanes with no shoulder most of the way. At one point the bus spent an hour in a traffic jam caused by a car that had hit and killed a pedestrian. The victim was a peasant who had been carrying a large bundle. I use the word peasant here because he was dressed like Juan Valdez and we were miles from anything that looked like a town.
Antigua must be the number one tourist destination in Guatemala. It’s not surprising that it should be. The tiny city is made up of beautiful old Spanish buildings made of stone. The buildings that are standing had to survive the constant earthquakes the city suffers being located at the foot of an active volcano. Visually, place is oozing character. I got the impression that Antigua makes a lot of leather crafts. Leather crafts probably sell well to the absolute plague of backpacker tourists who inhabit the city, displacing anything like a native population. Antigua felt like a giant open air university district coffee shop, except that instead of happily chatting with each other, the hipsters in Antigua were busy angrily ignoring eachother’s existence.
In my memory Guatemala City was built a single story high. The infrastructure all seemed ancient by comparison with Mexico but functional, clean and in good repair. It seemed like I detected an element of fear there, but I might have been projecting based on what I knew had transpired in Guatemala during the 80’s.
At one point I was browsing in a book store and discovered a history book probably aimed at middle school aged kids. This is how I learned that to Guatemala, Beliz is really British Guatemala, a territory that is disputed between Britain and Guatemala. The book made no mention of the Monroe Doctrine.
From Guatemala City I took a relatively rough road to Honduras so that I could swing by and see some of the better Mayan ruins in the world. On that bus, everyone was a foreigner. Well, I don’t remember the driver, but I imagine he at least was Guatemalan.
I had a long conversation with an art teacher from Florida who told me about applying to the US State Department for permission to go to teach at an art workshop in Cuba. The first time he had applied he was turned down without explanation. The second time he applied, they asked him to come in for an interview. At the interview they showed him pictures of himself entering the Cuban embassy to apply for a visa and asked him “why are you so interested in Cuba?” I guess they didn’t approve his visit that time either.
A Swiss guy on the same bus had an amazingly small backpack as his only luggage. He was wearing all high tech synthetic garments and told me that he only had one change of clothes and washed them every evening. I greatly admire anyone who can travel that light. Of course if money is no object you can go quite far carrying nothing more than a bank card.
At this point, I had made it far enough South that people thought it reasonable to have no hot water in a hotel.
I crossed the border into Honduras and made the transition from being surrounded by the desperation of rural poverty to the eerily familiar desperation and menace of an American ghetto. Maybe part of what made Honduras familiar was US style construction. Being our Banana republic, maybe Honduras follows our building codes and depends on US construction materials. In any case Honduras reminded me of footage I’d seen of the rural South East. I think it was the Lonely Planet guide that told me that much of the population was surviving (more accurately not surviving) on 70 cents a day. Oops, getting kinda grim; Let me get back to being a tourist.
The first place I stayed in Honduras felt like three buildings in the middle of a jungle. There was the hotel that I stayed at for $2.00, there was some kind of private house and then there was a bank. When crossing borders there is always the logistical problem of how to get local currency before you first need it. Two of the coolest currency names in the world, by the way: the Guatemalan Quetzal and the Honduran Lempira. It was dark but there was a single street light in this lonely spot. A cash machine was clearly visible from the street in this bank in the middle of nowhere. It seemed suspicious, but I needed local currency, so I crossed the street and submitted my bank card. My courage, or carelessness was rewarded with a wad of Honduran Lempiras. My bank account balance looked pretty good to me in Lempiras too.
That hotel was my introduction to Honduran Hotels. I don’t think I’ve seen anything in the world to rival them. I couldn't have found a $2.00 a night hotel in Mexico if I wanted to; here, I had only one option. It featured a bare gray mattress blotched with darker stains. The walls and lighting gave the effect of a dream sequence from a horror film. But for $2.00 what did I have to complain about? I didn’t get attacked by bedbugs. I didn’t even see any rodents or cockroaches.