Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of Guatemala, Part 1

© 1993, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Originally, this diary was written by hand in a spiral notebook during the trip, in October 1993. Many years later, I transcribed and edited it. I'd glued all kinds of things into the paper version: postcards, bus tickets, receipts, and so forth.]

In October 1992, I was in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, staying at the youth hostel. I had three roommates, one of whom was Norwegian. Like a lot of budget travelers going to Latin America, he'd spent time in Antigua, Guatemala, taking basic Spanish language lessons. Rather than stay with a host family, as offered by many language programs, he'd found his own accommodation and private language teacher. He gave me the family's name and address, lest I should ever be in that area. At that time, Guatemala had never been on my travel radar, but I listened to him tell of his experiences, thanked him, and filed away the information. And don't you know it, a year later, there I was knocking on that family's door, asking about renting a room and taking Spanish lessons!

Preparation, Departure, and Layover

At Washington Dulles International airport (IAD), I waited in the lounge for my flight to Mexico City (MEX). It was packed, and seated to my left were two French couples, while a Spanish-speaking family sat on my right. The announcements were in English and Spanish, so I started getting into "Spanish mode." And while I had a basic grounding in some aspects of Spanish grammar and a decent-sized vocabulary, my comprehension was very poor. In fact, the main reason for this trip was to improve those skills.

Apart from buying a guidebook and a good map, my preparation for the trip was pretty much non-existent. I'd make it up as I went, right from Day 1. However, I'd set a goal of having two weeks of intensive, one-on-one Spanish tutoring.

I'd bought a new backpack for the Costa Rican trip the previous year, and I loved it. Having travelled extensively, I'd refined the packing process, and was carrying the bare minimum. In fact, I'd packed everything in 15 minutes on the day of the trip! For a 3-week trip, my pack contained the following: 5 pairs of woolen socks, 3 pairs of sock liners, 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of sandals, 5 pairs of underpants, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of trousers, 4 T-shirts, 1 rainproof jacket, 1 warm jacket liner, 1 warm cap, 1 sun hat, numerous Spanish grammar and vocabulary books, an electronic Spanish translator, and some candy.

As we boarded the flight, I got a workout in both Spanish and German as I helped several travelers with the boarding process. The flight was smooth and uneventful, just as one prefers. I had a window seat, and next to me sat a young man from Mexico City. Dinner was served, and I spent some time studying the Spanish half of the menu, learning several practical words and phrases. I watched the movie "The Firm," starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.

After 1,200 miles and 4:30 hours, we arrived at MEX at 8:10 pm, local time, two hours earlier than back home, in light drizzle. Since my plane was continuing to Guatemala, I stayed onboard, talking to two young German women. [As it happened, I had been in their part of Germany just six weeks earlier.] We departed at 9:15 pm with only a small load. The 660 miles took 1:30 hours.

Guatemala City    

The United Airlines agent who greeted us at Guatemala City airport (GUA) was very friendly, and sold me the required tourist card for $5. Customs and immigration were a formality. I knew the airport bank would be closed, but I went there to read the exchange rate. An enterprising policeman came up to me and told me the bank was closed, but he was willing to sell me some local currency (Guatemalan quetzales, GTQ) for US cash, if I wanted. He offered five for 1 US$, which was very fair, so I changed $20-worth.

Out at the curb, I met Felix, a young German from Stuttgart. As he didn't have a place to stay either, we agreed to share a taxi downtown to a cheap place I'd found in my guidebook. However, the taxi driver informed us that place had gotten expensive, and he recommended another place, so we took his advice. The ride was like being in a high-speed race, and cost us $10.

The pension he dropped us at was a seedy dump frequented by tourists travelling on the cheap (just like us). Our room had four beds, and I picked one without an end, so my long legs could hang over. Despite being spartan and run-down, the room was clean, and cost us $2.80 each for the night. Lights-out around 11 pm, local time.

[Next day] I slept well, and was up at 8 o'clock. After a quick look around, I packed and walked to the main bus terminal from which buses left for the former capital, Antigua. My fairly new Ford bus was gaily painted and decorated, and like all the buses, sported a large and very loud air horn, which the driver used constantly to warn pedestrians and other drivers to "get the hell out of my way!". While I expected there were road rules, I surely couldn't figure them out from our driver's behavior. It seemed that the rougher the road, the faster the driver went. As I wanted to take my pack inside the bus rather than risk having it stolen from the roof, I paid double fare, a whopping $1.50. It took an hour, and we stopped pretty much anywhere anyone waved us down. The bus license stuck to the wall said "43 passajeros maxima," but I think we set a Guinness World Record, as we were stuffed in like sardines! I sat up front and made room next to me for a small (the usual size down there) mother with a baby hanging in a shawl wrapped around her neck. Several women flagged us down, and it took three guys to load their baskets of pineapples and melons onto the roof.

As we charged at breakneck speed down the highway, we narrowly missed a manhole whose cover was missing; no problemo! We passed through a police checkpoint. I don't know what the purpose of that was, but the officers carried automatic rifles. This is a country apparently with no mechanized lawnmowers, and plenty of humidity and heat to help the grass grow. As a result, along the way, we passed numerous men slashing the tall grass on the roadside with their machetes. It surely was a life-long job!

Antigua: Week 1 of Spanish Lessons

When we arrived at Antigua, I was glad to be outside, especially as the bus seats were each intended for small people with short legs. My knees sure took a beating! I took out the accommodation address the Norwegian guy had given me in Costa Rica, and got some directions from a policeman. I soon came across the main plaza—a beautiful spot—where I found 2nd Avenue. However, there was no Number 4, which was the woman's address. Number 6 was a store, and I went in. The owner was German, and after a short chat in German and Spanish, she told me I wanted South 2nd, not North. Soon after, I located the house of Señora Maria del Carmen Ramos.

Teenage daughter Indira informed me that her mother already had a student in the mornings, and would return from work around 1 pm. She showed me three bedrooms, and I chose the one upstairs, separate from the main house, with a view over the city towards the highlands. The room was clean, and had a double bed, bookcase, writing desk, and chair. The cost was $5/night, without meals.

Half a block away, I found a family-run, hole-in-the-wall bakery/café that had three tables. A young boy waited on me, and I had a Chile rellano—spicy beef in pastry—between slices of bread with lettuce and salsa. With a bottle of ice-cold Coke, it all cost 80 cents. While I ate, I watched a man sweep the cobblestone street with a broom handmade from twigs (a sight I was to see every day all around the downtown).

Next up was the tourist office. The man running it, Thomas, was very friendly, wore a tie, and introduced himself. I bought a town map for 25 centavos (5 cents), and when I asked about banks, he showed me one nearby. There, a very pleasant señora changed $250, which got me 1,450 quetzales. All the banks had armed guards standing in the doorways, some with automatic weapons, others with 12-guage shotguns. Inside, either I was in a very safe place or a very dangerous place, but which one was it?

The main plaza was a park and one of the nicest I'd seen in Latin America. There was no trash! Most of the foreigners there were French. I spoke with a Canadian couple who'd just come from Belize (the only English-speaking country in Central America) and had visited the Mayan ruins at Tikal (more on that place later). As they were headed to Costa Rica, we exchanged travel advice.

When I got back home, Carmen was there. She told me she could spare me three hours each afternoon that week at 4:30 for Spanish lessons, with more hours the following week. The cost would be $2/hour. I agreed to start that very afternoon.

I pulled out my books and did a bit of a refresher course on past tense (unfortunately, there are two forms of that) and other bits and pieces. Then I had a nap and a short walk around the neighborhood. Afterwards, Carmen came up to my room and, soon we were naked in bed practicing my vocabulary regarding body parts! No; wait a minute; that was a completely different trip! Now I remember, we sat at my table and after I told her the kinds of things I'd like to practice, we jumped headfirst into speaking Spanish! We spent most of the first session using past tense with her asking me questions about myself. To help me, she spoke reasonably slow, but I still missed a lot. She was very patient and a good teacher. We paused halfway in to have coffee and chocolate. My biggest problem had been a lack of practice with direct and indirect object pronouns (and 30 years later, I still haven't mastered them). While I knew the rules and could write correct sentences, when speaking, one has no time to think about the rules. It was a good first lesson, and set the tone for my stay.

Around 7:45, I strolled down to the plaza. The main fountain was working and was lit. Couples sat on benches talking or walked around. The sounds of a Mariachi band (guitars and trumpet) come from a group performing nearby. They were dressed very smartly.

I found a restaurant that specialized in fondue, Guatemalan style, so I ordered one with cheese and sausage. Although it looked small, it was sufficient and came with bread sticks. Along with café con leche (milk coffee) the bill came to $3. The waitress and cook smiled constantly and were very friendly.

I met two young women from Ireland who'd come from Belize. The whole of the downtown had cobblestone streets. No vehicular traffic was allowed on the streets for much of the day, just for early-morning and late-afternoon deliveries. Therefore, it was relatively quiet and unpolluted. And as the rainy season had just ended, the days were dry. After walking around, I finished up back at the plaza listening to the fountain bubble and watching water trickle from the breasts of four stone-maiden statues. Using my electronic translator, I worked on new vocabulary.

Back home, once my light was out, the room was quite dark. It was 10:30 pm, and it had been a very good first full day of the trip.

[Next day] After a good sleep in my comfortable bed, I was up at 8:30 am. I looked out the window to find it was another nice day in Paradise! As there was no running hot water, I shaved in cold water. Then I jumped into the shower. Now this had hot water, on-demand, but at what looked like some risk. Two electric wires ran into a box right on top of the shower head, and they heated the water as it passed through. Although I'd used this kind of device before in other countries, I can never get used to the idea that it's a good thing to mix water and electricity. The shared bathroom was quite adequate with two batwing doors that opened out into the courtyard, and with no roof, so tall people like me could look over the wall and chat to Gomez the gardener while taking care of our ablutions. Being luggage-weight conscious, I'd brought only a hand towel, but I made do.

Back in my room, I had a nutritious breakfast of potato chips and milk, after which I was ready to take on the world. But was the world ready for me? Having the day free until my 4:30-pm lesson, I reviewed the previous day's lesson. I also planned to write sentences for Carmen to check. To that end, I found a stationary store and bought a notebook. I also went to the post office and bought postcard stamps to various countries, the most expensive of which was only 8 cents.

Across the street was a market, so I took a look. It covered several acres under one big roof, which was really a loose collection of galvanized-iron sheets cleverly disguised as a roof. Many of the stalls were very small with hardly any room to turn around let alone swing a dead cat (an Aussie measure of space)! The first section was all clothes, leather goods, and bags. Then came a big fruit and vegetable section where I bought a cucumber, a very large carrot, and three small tomatoes. Many women working the stalls either had a small baby in a shawl bouncing around on their backs, or were breastfeeding between sales. Most were so short they could barely look into my navel let alone see the top of my head! Although they were of small stature, they certainly stacked loads in baskets on their heads without using their hands. Typical of Latin American markets, it was colorful, busy, noisy, friendly, and not too grubby. I certainly had no concerns about buying food there.

Next came stalls selling hardware and groceries, and butcher shops that had no refrigeration. Surprisingly, there were few flies. In any event, I never buy raw meat hanging out in the open. A whole section contained dining places where the prices were rock bottom! Each place was run by a woman or a young girl. What you learn quite quickly in such markets is not to look too long at an item, as someone will approach you and try to sell it to you, speaking way too fast for you to understand. Some vendors were quite aggressive.

Near the market was a very long public pool of water with many troughs. Many indigenous women were lined up doing their laundry by hand and washing and combing each other's long, black hair. They were all wearing very colorful clothes.

I came across the main supermarket where I stocked up on a few cheesy comestibles: milk, orange juice, grapefruit juice, Milo chocolate milk flavoring (which is very popular in Latin America as well as Australia), mayonnaise, bread rolls, cookies, Kellogg's cornflakes, cheese, and ham. Total cost: $14.70. My small daypack was bulging.

Back home, I had a roll with ham and tomato, and flavored milk, which hit the spot! I'd also had a banana at the market.

By the time I started on my Spanish work, it was noon. I got right into it and wrote 12 pages of sentences, and worked right up until Carmen came home. A couple of young Dutch women moved into another of the rooms. Their English was good, and they'd been studying Spanish for a while.

Carmen checked my writing and added only a few red lines! Some of the lesson went well, other parts not so. I had to describe a story told in 24 small pictures, like a cartoon strip. While I could see quite well what was happening, I could not find the right words. At the end, we started on reflexive verbs, something very common in Spanish but not at all in English. A personal problem arose after two hours, and Carmen had to end the lesson early. That was just fine with me as it was clear I had a lot of work to do. I rewarded myself (hey, that used a past-tense verb in a reflexive context) with another ham-and-cheese sandwich and a tall glass of milk from contented Guatemalan cows.

By 7:30 pm, it was getting a bit cool out, so I traded my shorts para mis pantalones largos (for my long pants)! I headed out to the neighborhood and found a minimovie theater with two small rooms each having a large TV, VCR, and 20 seats. The deal was that patrons paid $1 to watch a movie the owner had recorded from cable TV.

It rained lightly while I walked, but it was pleasant. It was quiet with some restaurants closed. I finished up at the fountain where I took a seat and started reading Robert Ludlam's "The Icarus Agenda." I got right into it, and when I got back to my room, I read a bit more, and then some more. It certainly was a "page-turner." Lights out at 10:30.

[Next day] I woke at 8:30 am and read for 30 minutes. It was rather cool out, definitely not shorts weather. In order to promote a better diet, I cut back on the amount of potato chips for breakfast, instead having a BIG bowl of cornflakes. I read some more, studied, and then napped.

After two lessons totaling five hours, I was finding it to be far less romantic than I had (probably foolishly) envisioned. It can be quite intimidating to have someone ask you questions for two hours straight when you don't understand most of them without having them repeated at least twice! Lesson Number 3 got underway at 4:45 pm. Light rain fell and lasted a good while. I struggled through, but at least the written work I'd done earlier in the day was largely correct. Carmen provided cake and coffee.

We finished at 7:45 after which I went out into the street and settled into a theater showing the movie "Salvador" about the civil war in the nearby country of El Salvador. It was pretty gruesome! Back home, I read until lights-out.

[Next day] I woke at 9 o'clock and read in bed for an hour. Then after a shave and a nice, hot shower, I had a bowl of cornflakes and a banana. Afterwards, I ventured out to buy some postcards, but didn't find any that excited me, so I wandered around some stores and the streets to the north edge of town, and up a tall hill for a view of the city and one volcano. I came across eucalypt trees just like I had seen in Peru 10 years earlier. [At that time, I was ignorant of the fact that they grew outside Australia.] One shop was selling something that caught my eye, packets of plastic bags. The interesting thing was that the brand name of the product was "Kanguru," and the picture on the packet showed that the bags were as secure as a kangaroo's pouch!

I saw a number of large ruins, mostly churches, as the Catholics spent a huge amount of money in the region over the centuries. There have been more than a few very big earthquakes over the years, the most recent one about 10 years ago. In fact, I think that's why the capital was moved away from here. One church I saw was built in 1638, destroyed by a quake in 1717, then rebuilt and destroyed in 1773. (I guess that's what the insurance companies mean when they use the term "an act of God!")

By noon, I was back in my room drinking an ice-cold Pepsi and contemplating studying. I squeezed in four hours of very productive work, mostly on relative and interrogative pronouns and adverbs. Very exciting stuff, wot! Everything just seemed to fall into place. I also worked on position and location, such as under, above, in front of, and such. Carmen arrived at 4:45 with coffee and pastries and we talked up a storm. We only spent 15 minutes on the topic I'd been studying, and otherwise digressed into general conversation covering topics such as politics, education, malaria, and waterfalls. It was by far the best and most relaxed workout I'd had yet, and we spent three hours.

I settled in at a fondue restaurant where I nibbled while reading a novel. I had the house-special soup, which consisted of chicken breast in a broth with rice. On the side were dishes of chopped onion, cilantro, oregano, and chili powder. By the time I loaded some of each into my soup bowl, it looked like grass was growing out of it! The meal was served with three tortillas. After a short break, I had a nice, hot cup of local coffee, and got back to my reading. Although I was full, I asked for the dessert menu from which I selected a delectable dish of fried banana with honey drizzled over it. It was served hot and tasted pretty darned good! I washed it down with another coffee. At 10 pm, they started closing the place, so I paid my bill, which came to less than $5, with tip included. Lights-out back home at 11:45.

[Next day] After I read in bed, a bowl of peaches and cereal got me off to a good start for the day. Around noon, I started work on my Spanish, and after only 15 minutes, had mastered the future tense. I made so much progress that I quit studying and went touring instead. I visited a ruined convent and bought some postcards. By 2:30, rain came, and it was heavy, so much so, that I headed home.

Carmen came home at 6 o'clock. The first 30 minutes of our session went like a house on fire, and my written work was decent. However, I then fell into a really big hole, and the next 90 minutes was torture of the worst kind. Fortunately, there were no razor blades handy, or I might have ended it right then and there. But then there'd be blood all over the place, and don't you just hate that when that happens!

At 8 pm, I ventured out to find a quick bite, as I was planning on an 8:30 movie. I found a burger place–Guatemalan-style—and had a cheeseburger and fries. They tasted pretty good, and the burger included some sort of salad with dressing. As hygiene seems to be decent in this town, I didn't hesitate to eat fresh vegetables, which normally are off-limits in third-world countries.

At the theater, I sat in the last row. Two policemen passed me and settled into a dark corner. It seemed that they were on duty and wanted to be hiding lest a superior came in. The light went down promptly at 8:30, and the movie started, with no ads, no intros. It was "Hard Target," a beat-em-up action movie, starring Jean-Claude van Damme. As the patrons were quite noisy, I had trouble hearing the English audio, so had to resort to reading the Spanish sub-titles. Surprise, I even saw some of the new tenses I was learning actually being used! Mid-way through the movie, there were some technical difficulties, and we had an unscheduled 5-minute break. The audience members jeered loudly. We got out at 10:15 and I walked home where I read my engrossing book for an hour before lights-out.

[Next day] Once again, I lay in bed reading for an hour, before taking care of my ablutions. Breakfast was cereal and fruit. I started work with my Spanish books, and fairly soon after, had a breakthrough. To reward myself, I walked to the corner store and bought potato chips and some Chile rellenos, and sat and had a cold Pepsi at a bakery where the woman was always friendly, spoke slowly, and tried to help me improve my Spanish. Then it was back to my books! As Carmen didn't work on Saturdays, we started our lesson at 2 o'clock, and things went very well for three hours.

At 6:30, I went into town and stopped at an Italian restaurant where I had a sausage pizza, although it appeared the sausage had taken a vacation! I washed that down with a drink while reading my novel. There were people out in force, all around the plaza.

I made it to a movie house at 8:25, and grabbed a comfortable lounge chair. I saw the video "The Crying Game." It was quite a dark movie, but I liked it. The price was $1.15. Just before the movie ended, heavy rain started, but eased as I walked home.

Chichicastenango, Panajachel, and Lake Atitlán

[Next day] It was All Hallows Eve/All Saints Eve/Halloween, a big day in the Catholic calendar down here, and I'd set the alarm for 7:30. After some cereal and fruit, I went to the bus station in search of a bus to Chimaltenango. A driver informed me that there would not be any for some time, but I could take a bus to San Lucas and go from there. I took his advice, boarded such bus, which promptly departed, went 500 yards, and stopped and waited for 15 minutes. Thirty minutes after I'd left home, we were parked at the end of my street. I could tell that it was going to be "one of those days."

In San Lucas, I waited on the main road trying to flag down a bus going to Chimaltenango. Many buses came and went, and after two hours, I was still standing there. Afterall, it was a very big holiday period. I got talking with some young Americans who were serving two years down there in the Peace Corps. It rained on and off, and finally I got on a bus. That took me to Los Encuentros (Spanish for meeting place/crossroads). That leg took 90 minutes, and I had to stand for most of the time, packed in with all the short sardines! I was also back behind the rear wheels, so the turning motion was exaggerated. Immediately on arrival, I caught a bus to Chichicastenango, my actual destination, and actually got a seat; YES! A pleasant young man traveling with his family gave me some tips. As we got up into the mountains, there was rain and fog. We arrived at Chichi 6:30 hours after I'd left my room, and I'd traveled all of 50 miles!

Within minutes of my getting off the bus, a big procession of hand-carried floats passed by with people in bright costumes, bands playing, and fireworks. The weekend celebration had begun, and they were bringing a sacred relic from storage to the main church. Of course, I ran out of film just at that moment, but managed to quickly load a new roll and to get some great shots.

Although the town was rather run-down, with all the colors and celebrations, it almost looked nice! Chichi is famous for its cloth, most of which is hand-made, and there was a BIG textile market. As my guidebook said, "If you are not into textiles or anthropology, a couple of hours in such a place might be one hour too many!" And so, it was. After looking at half-a-dozen stalls, it was just lots of repetition. Other stalls sold fruit and vegetables, meat, and fruit, along with prepared food. The market was about five acres in size, all covered with blue and orange tarpaulin squares, each rigged up over bamboo slats and wooden frames. The rain dripped off many of the covers. I bought several pieces of cloth. At a food stall, the vendor cooked me some fries.

As I'd seen the procession, there was no reason to stay the night, so I went in search of a bus. The first one to stop was bursting at the seams with people, and the second was full of smokers. I caught the third one, but had to stand all the way back to Los Encuentros. After a short break there, I boarded a minibus headed for Sololá. From there, I arranged a ride into the nearby town of Panajachel, riding with five others on the bed of a small truck. Fortunately, the back was covered, so we were protected from the wind and rain. The 5-mile road took about 20 minutes in the dark, and in fact, the road was hardly a road at all.

The driver dropped us all in front of the Hotel Mayan Palace, the cheapest of the better places. Having regurgitated my food several times after leaving Chichi, I was in no mood to shop around for a place to stay, so I took a room there, for $12. The bed was comfortable, I had an en-suite bathroom, and plenty of hot water. After a very long and hot shower—during which the shower head fell off—I climbed into bed. There, I ate a chocolate bar and drank half a liter of milk before settling down to read my novel. Lights out at 10 pm after a day that travel-wise I didn't wish to repeat, ever again!

[Next day] It was All Saint's Day (Todo Santos)! After a "sleep of the angels," I woke at 8:30 feeling like a whole new person. It was a new day that wouldn't, indeed couldn't, be as bad as the day before. The town was on a large lake, Lago de Atitlán, and the road down to the water's edge had wall-to-wall stalls selling cloth, clothes, leather belts, and bags. After seeing the lake and the surrounding three (hopefully) dormant volcanoes, I decided to stay another night. There were regular ferry services to towns around the lake, and kayaks and jet skis for hire. There was even a helicopter ride. A path ran by the lake along which there were grassed areas and eating places. Numerous people were sunbathing. It was a glorious day, and everything was right in this little corner of the world. A group of locals was colorfully dressed and was involved in some sort of religious service. Then people started playing musical instruments, and the group sang. I very much stood out as being the only person there who was taller than 4'6" (I'm 6'4"). Women were bathing in the lake and washing and brushing their hair.

Late morning, I found a small, dilapidated restaurant where I ordered breakfast. I had two eggs scrambled with tomato, cheese, black beans, onions, and tortillas. I washed that down with two cups of coffee, all for the price of $2.50. I finished my book while drinking coffee, spending 90 minutes for the break. Then I chatted with a Canadian couple for an hour.

I hired a boatman to take me out on the lake for a look around. We spent an hour, visiting the towns of San Antonio and Santa Caterina. The mountainsides were quite steep and had lots of agriculture. There were some nice-looking cottages on the cliffs.

Back on dry land, it was getting dark and as I walked along a path, I came awfully close to plunging into an open sewer that was several feet deep. One hole in the track was so deep, I could barely hear the cries for help from the people who'd fallen in earlier! I came across a carpenter working late in his shop, and I stopped to have a chat. He was making a display case for a shop nearby. I returned to the beach area and lay on the grass writing postcards and watching the impressive lightening display in the sky and reflected in the lake.

Around 9:30 pm, I started looking for a place to stay, as I'd checked out of my previous place. I quickly found one for only $4. The bed was good, but the location was quite noisy. The bathroom consisted of a hand basin bolted to the outside wall of a shed. There was cold water only, but it did have a roof over it! Wadda ya expect for $4, indoor plumbing? After a cup of coffee, I hit the hay at 10 pm.

[Next day] Panajachel came alive quite early, and so did I! I packed and was downtown by 9 am, looking to catch an early bus. A minibus pulled up and offered to take me directly to Antigua for the princely sum of $12. But I'd have a seat, and there would be no changes. Well, we waited for the bus to fill, and it never did. So, when a regular bus came along, I caught that instead. As I'd boarded at the start of the journey, I had a seat and leg room. The good news about having a window seat was I had a great view of the cliff as we were about to drive over it as we raced around the sharp corners. Of course, we stopped at several places along the way. It's the journey, not the destination, right? The steep hillsides supported corn crops, and I figured the farmers must have one long leg and one short to get around out there. At times, the rain and fog got so thick that the driver thought about slowing down! Of course, he didn't, but he came close to thinking about it! There were so many turns driving through the mountains, and then finally we had a 200-yard stretch of straight road, then 500 yards, and Heaven forbid a whole mile!

Once we got out of the mountains, it was mostly farming with vegetables, sheep, and cattle. At one stop, kids got on and came through the bus selling food and drinks, and I bought two home-made, spicy Chili rellenos, which surely put some fire in my belly. I saw many kids and adults flying kites in the stiff breeze. It was a sunny day, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. At Chimaltenango, I boarded a bus for the half-hour ride back to Antigua. I shared a small seat with a Frenchman. We passed by several cemeteries, which were covered in floral arrangements as part of the All Saint's Day celebrations. After all, that day was the Day of the Dead!

Stay tuned for Part 2.