It was my last day in Xela, with all of the basic setup, wiring, and other on-site work having been completed on Friday. As I’m lousy at negotiating prices even in English, Jorge was kind enough to go from shop to shop with me looking for some gifts for my wife and keepsakes to take home with me, after I went out with Irv to find a whiteboard for the clinic. The title of this refers to my normal breakfast order in the hotel, which I was finally able to order myself — “scrambled eggs with cheese, no meat”. When it comes to breakfast, I’m a bit more than mildly predictable.
Jonathan had decided to take us to Antigua a day before we had to fly out of Guatemala City because he was concerned about the long ride, potential delays from mudslides on CA-1, and to treat the team with a relaxing day off. I’m still surprised that we made it to Antigua in one piece — the bus driver we had this time treated CA-1 like a racetrack. I lost track of the number of times we passed chicken buses on two lane stretches with visible oncoming traffic, but we still somehow made it to Antigua in one piece.
For those people who want to see Guatemala, avoid Antigua like the plague. Antigua is to Guatemala like naugahyde is to leather. It’s like a really bad European version of the rest of the country, to somewhat haphazardly quote on of the other people on the bus. Everything is overpriced compared to the rest of the country, and the same goods are sold at a huge markup although the same amount probably goes to the poor people who actually manufacture the goods. I bought a few small things, as I had to burn the majority of my remaining quetzals before returning home, but the whole experience of shopping there with the memory of the poverty in Xela and the outlying regions left me a bit sick to the stomach.
Disregarding the income disparity and kitchy nature of some of the shops, along with most of the prices of the European-owned shops and hotels being represented in United States dollars rather than quetzals, Antigua is a beautiful city. People, especially street vendors, are marginally less friendly than they had been in Xela. I think I’d liken their disposition to that of street vendors in New York City, who generally frown upon taking their picture if I haven’t made a purchase from them.
A little later on in the evening, we went out for a trip-closing dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant hidden off of the central park, to which we had been directed by a somewhat questionable man in a cigar and liquor shop. The food was very good, but the portions were far larger than any of us had expected, and we left there very overstuffed but happy. We headed back to the sketchy cigar and liquor shop, at which point we decided not to frequent his establishment. Jorge suggested we go out to a salsa club, since, as he put it, “when are you going to be in Guatemala at a salsa club again?” We stayed for about a half hour, as it was noisy and overcrowded. Before we left, Jorge pointed out a few obnoxious American tourists as an example of the worst of us. I’d like to think that because Antigua was more of a pit-stop along the way home, we’re not in quite the same bracket as the American tourists who come down here for the sole purpose of partying and making general fools of themselves.
Tomorrow we fly home, and I’ll be spending another day of being on planes, trains and automobiles (all apologies to Del Griffith). I’m going to be relieved to be home, but I’d like to believe that I’m better off after coming down here. If I ever forget how lucky and privileged I am, I just have to think back to some of the places here.
(To anyone following this, sorry for the delay in posting.)