© 1993, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
[Continued from Part 1 (April 2023).]
Antigua: Week 2 of Spanish Lessons
Back in Antigua, I bought some emergency rations, dropped my postcards at the post office, and was back in my room by 1 o'clock. The trip back took three hours, which was less than half the time it took me to get away, but more than three times as long as if the original minibus trip had worked out. C'est la vie! Or as they say in Spanish, "Así es la vida;" such is life! I enjoyed a nice, long, hot shower, and had a Spanish lesson from 2–5.
At 6:30 pm, I saw the movie "Body of Evidence," starring Madonna and Willem Defoe, which I enjoyed. Prior to that, they showed some CNN International news in which I saw fires near Los Angeles. At the movie, I met a couple from the UK/Ireland, and we chatted a while afterwards.
I found a Chinese restaurant with Spanish menu and had a great meal of curried chicken with celery and rice. Total cost, $2.50. Then it was off to my favorite restaurant for dessert. Unfortunately, they had run out of honey-covered fried banana. I tried the banana with cinnamon sauce, which I washed down with some coffee. It was adequate. All the while, I read my new novel, "Lie Down with Lions," by Ken Follett. Back home, I read a bit before lights-out at 10:30.
Before I stopped for the day, I thought I'd write about my bus experience. It turns out that legally they are not supposed to carry more passengers than they have seats. Twice during my weekend trip, the driver yelled out that he could see police coming, and all those standing should crouch down, so it wouldn't look obvious that the bus was overloaded. As if the police didn't know how buses operated! Anyway, picture a bus with an aisle down the middle, a door at the front, and an emergency door at the back that was also used for normal exit and entry. Many of the buses are cast-off school buses, and each seat can hold three small bottoms. Once two adults occupy a seat, the driver's assistant gets other people to sit half on the remaining seat space, hanging out into the aisle, and pretty much against the person hanging out from the seat across the aisle, leaving no room for anyone to get down the aisle. Ideally, you pack the passengers in from the middle towards the front or back doors. But no, that would require discipline and planning, and people simply took whatever space they first saw once they got on. And to compound things, instead of selling ticket as passengers boarded, once the bus was loaded, the assistant tried to come down the aisle, literally climbing over seats and people, standing up on a seat with his back to the roof for stability as he sold tickets and made change. Invariably, when a person needed to get off, they were nowhere near either door! What a system!
[Next day] I woke early and lay in bed reading for an hour. After some cereal, I washed my clothes by hand, and moved my desk and chair into the courtyard, the only place receiving direct sunlight. I was bringing this diary up to date when Carmen arrived around 10 am. We worked outside in the glorious sunshine, although it got pretty cool when the clouds intervened. It was hard going!
I visited my friendly bakery for lunch, where the lady made me a roll, which I washed down with a strawberry Fanta. [It wasn't until I left Australia in 1979, that I discovered Fanta came in flavors other than orange!]
I ventured out and visited some ruins and the main plaza. Mid-afternoon, I took in the movie "The Fisher King," with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. By the time I went home to change into some warmer clothes and came back, the 6-pm movie was about to start: "Thelma and Louise," starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. Afterwards, I made my way to the Italian restaurant and had a small pizza with every topping imaginable, and a couple of cups of coffee, while I read my novel.
I must say that the novelty of learning Spanish was wearing off!
[Next day] Once again, I was awake early, and I read in bed. Then after a small breakfast, I moved my table and chair into the courtyard where I could sit in the sun and prepare for my day's lesson. Carmen arrived at 10 o'clock. I made good progress. We snacked on potato chips and orange juice, and we worked for three hours.
I went to a bank to change US$200. Although I was only second in line at the teller, the customer ahead of me seemed to be opening an account for every living soul in his hometown. It sure took a while, and he signed many sheets of paper. The exchange rate was about the same, and I had to pay the "huge" commission of $1. Armed with a basketful of play money, I headed to my friendly bakery, where I ate Chile relleno on a warm bread roll smothered in spicy salsa. It was so good, I had a second one, and washed that all down with a bottle of raspberry Fanta. After some time, I smelled fresh doughnuts, which looked so good, I just had to sample one.
I headed to the park to sit and read some travel literature, as I planned to leave town on the weekend. Afterwards, I took in the movie, "Fried Green Tomatoes." Now ours was the last showing of the day, and once the operator got everything going, he headed home for the night. However, 75 minutes in, the screen went blank, and it was obvious that when the movie was recorded, something went wrong, and we were missing the final 45 minutes. Don't you just hate that when that happens! [It was quite some years later that I finally saw the rest of the movie!]
As we got out early, I had time to kill before a movie at another theater. I stopped at a burger place and had a cheeseburger and coffee. At 8:20, I got up to leave for my 8:30-movie, when the whole town was blacked-out. The waiter immediately raced to the front door and shut it, presumably to stop patrons from sneaking out in the dark without paying. Outside, stall owners lit candles and there were headlights on cars, as I made my way to the theater. After 30 minutes, the power came back on, and "Unforgiven" starring Clint Eastwood got underway.
[Next day] I woke at 8 o'clock and read in bed a while before going downtown. There, I visited a travel agency and organized a package trip to the Mayan ruins for the following week.
Back home, I had a light breakfast and prepared for my 10-am Spanish session. Things went quite well, and we spent most of the time reviewing the five compound tenses I'd learned the previous day. Then Carmen surprised me with a written test that required me to conjugate 20 verbs in six different tenses! I struggled with a few, but of the 120 problems, I got only five wrong, so I was pretty happy. When I'm working on any one tense I do okay, but switching between them on a regular basis can make one's head spin!
On the edge of the main square, I discovered a new restaurant for lunch. I ordered a club sandwich, Antigua-style and my usual café con leche. The sandwich was very good: four slices of toast filled with chicken, salad, tomato, lettuce, and salad dressing, among other things. It dripped down my hands as I ate, making it a challenge to read my novel at the same time.
Out in the park, I met a Texan who was reading a novel by an author I liked, so I stopped to chat. It turned out he was looking for a room for two with private Spanish instruction, so I told him mine would be free starting Sunday. Then I met a retired couple from Boston who wintered in New Mexico, and we talked while watching a wedding celebration nearby. Apparently, the family had hired two local buses to hold all the guests who were out taking photos in the square dressed in very colorful clothes.
Back in my room, I sat on the balcony writing, and one of the Dutch girls was doing likewise. I started a new novel, and got right into it. As I had only one other book left, I'd soon need to find a bookshop or exchange.
Late evening, I arrived at a theater and settled in to watch "Glengarry Glen Ross," which was about the worst movie I'd seen in a long while, so much so that I don't ever want to read/see anything written by the author, David Mamet! The good news was that I'd only paid $1.
Back in my room, I read my novel until I finished it, all in one day! After two weeks, I was ready to leave. It was time to break the daily ritual and to do something new.
[Next day] I was up at 8:15, and having used up all my cereal, I ventured out for breakfast. It was another nice day, and I sat at the bakery eating a doughnut and sipping coffee. Back home, I prepared for my final class with Carmen. I decided that I'd had enough of grammar, and I suggested we look at pictures in a book, and I'd describe the situations to give my vocabulary a workout. Afterwards, Carmen asked me to describe my trip to Costa Rica the previous year, to get my past tense going. Then I wrote a few sentences. After two hours, I was spent, so we stopped. I took her photo, and I paid my bill for 14 nights' accommodation and 33 hours of tuition, which came to the Grand Total of US$100! But since I was VERY happy with the whole experience, I gave her an extra $25.
At a local bookstore, I swapped two books and bought three new ones. I started reading one about Perry Mason, and got right into it. [So much so that I finished it that evening and raced back to exchange it for two others!]
I took my time crossing the park, but the rain came down quite heavily, so I hurried to my 6-o'clock movie. It was "Husbands and Wives," starring Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. I really enjoyed it. It was 8 o'clock by the time the film ended, and I had planned to eat dessert and coffee only, having had a large lunch. However, I found myself at the Italian restaurant reading while waiting for a pizza to be cooked. Light Italian opera music wafted in, followed by some foot-tapping accordion music.
Back in my room, I set the alarm for 4-bloody-am! Unfortunately, it was a noisy Saturday night, and although it was "lights out" at 10 pm, sleep took a while to come. The concert music downtown was very loud, but I refused to look at the clock, so I wouldn't know how much sleep I didn't get!
Flying North Over the Jungle
[Next day] All too soon, my 4-am alarm sounded, and by 4:15, I was packed and waiting out front. It was Sunday, and time to take my weekly malaria pill, especially as I was headed for the jungle in the northeast. My pickup time was 4:20, but that came and went, as did 4:30. I had visions of missing my flight. Then at 4:40, lo and behold, a minibus arrived and headed off around the town picking up other passengers. Twenty minutes later, we drove back past my front door to the other side of town! An hour after I started waiting, we actually left town. But, of course, we were on Latin-American time, as in mañana!
The road to the capital was much better than I remembered from the trip out. Of course, this minibus was much more comfortable, and every passenger had their own seat. The van pulled a small trailer that contained all our luggage. As the bus filled, I moved to the single seat next to the driver. We were filled to capacity. Day broke as we drove through the mountains, and the lights of the capital filled the valley below. The sun rose around 6 am as we descended to the city, and people were out setting up food and drink stalls. Some were even jogging.
We reached the airport's international terminal soon after, where we dropped off half the passengers. Then it was on to the domestic terminal, all the way around the other side of the field, next to an air-force base. After we passed through a military police checkpoint, I was dropped at the hangar for the carrier Tapso. However, as I was the only passenger booked on the flight, they cancelled it, and rebooked me on another carrier, Avcon. I walked several hangars down where I was checked in and given a boarding pass. A number of 25- and 50-passenger turboprop planes stood nearby.
Departure time was scheduled for 7 am, so I sat and had a nice cup of coffee, which the airline provided free-of-charge. Some 10 passengers were waiting for my flight, and they were speaking a variety of languages, as my destination was popular with international tourists. We boarded a small plane. I was first on-board, so picked a single seat on the port (left) side right behind the cockpit. As the wing was on the roof, I was in a good viewing position.
We took off right on schedule; imagine that! And we were in the air after using only 100 yards of the runway. I looked out over the capital until we climbed into the clouds. We levelled off at 8,000 feet and it was "smooth flying" from there. After 20 minutes, we were out of the mountains and over flat jungle with a clear sky. Although I could see a long way, there wasn't anything to view except for trees with an occasional cleared patch, a large meandering river, and one main road going north. Occasionally, smaller roads branched off.
After an hour of flying, before landing, we circled the field at Santa Elena. I could see the large Lake Petén Itzá in the distance, as well as the town of Flores. In recent years, the rainfall had been extra heavy, and as the lake doesn't have an exit point, it had flooded over into the neighboring towns. An Aviateca Boeing 737 stood nearby. That airline serves the capital and neighboring countries.
My package tour was with the Jungle Lodge, they had a desk at the airport, and my name was on their list; YES! The two agents were friendly and spoke English. By the time the other guests had been rounded up and our luggage found, it was 9 o'clock. We were 10 passengers, a driver, and a guide, and we boarded a comfortable van. We drove north for an hour on a decent road.
The Mayan Temples at Tikal
The Jungle Lodge reminded me of the base camp at which I'd stayed along the Amazon River in Peru, and of the lodge at Canaima, Venezuela. The main building housed offices, a lounge, and a large eating area. Everything was wide open with thatched roofs and tall ceilings with the obligatory fan. My room was 6B, and shared a common wall with the room next door. I had two double beds, some bits of furniture, a bathroom, and a front patio (with seats) that overlooked a garden. The bathroom was about the same size as the room I'd been living in for the past two weeks! The shower stall was so large, I used only a small corner of it. Although it was by no means fancy, it was more than adequate. Electricity was available from 5:30 pm to 10 pm only, so there was no reading or ceiling fan after that. My neighbors were German, which I gathered from their accents through the common wall.
By mid-morning, I had unpacked and went in search of some food. A short walk from the hotel, I found a cheap eating place. I ordered a picnic lunch to-go. It included a boiled egg, which they'd cooked while I waited. Two sandwiches contained an assortment of meats. An orange and some salt were included in the plastic bag. Cost: $3.
After I ate a sandwich, I went back to the lodge where I met my guide, Alfredo. We set off on a personal 2-hour orientation of the archeological site nearby. Tikal is one of the best-known Mayan building sites. Built over 1,000 years, it seems that it was abandoned around AD 900. More than 3,000 different structures have been identified, including a number of reasonably large pyramids. Apparently, they were into sacrifices, including human, and had lots of altars. And although lots of jade trinkets have been found, they didn't have any gold. In fact, they had no metal tools. All carving was done with pointed sticks, and hammers were made of stone.
We looked around the main plaza where there was a concentration of large structures and Temple I, the one featured on most postcards. Although it was impressive, there was a lot of erosion on the stones. It's a stepped pyramid with a 3-room temple at the top, and a "comb" on top of that. A single flight of stone steps rises from the bottom to the base of the temple. As it was closed for renovations, I could only gaze upon it from a neighboring building.
Each complex has a main structure in each of the positions north, south, east, and west. The Mayans were very knowledgeable, especially about the planets. They had a calendar, a written language, and a number system. They've been gone some 1,200 years, and I wondered if civilization had really progressed much since then!
Across the plaza is Temple II, which was also quite impressive. I raced up the steps to look around that complex, and then went onto Temple III. This was still in the condition in which it was found in 1860, overgrown completely up to the base of the temple on the top. You'd never know it was not "just another hill." I climbed up the "path" over slippery rocks using some roots as handholds. From the top, I got a view of Temple IV nearby, which is the tallest structure; it too is still completely overgrown. The Park had installed very strong, wooden ladders that slope gently up, so one can reach the temple without too much effort. At the base of the temple, a steel ladder allowed me to climb right to the top where I could see out over the jungle for miles around. Near the temple base, I met a coatimundi, a friendly animal that walked off into the undergrowth, or perhaps I should say overgrowth! Back at ground level, I spied a vendor with a cooler of beer and soda, so I had a nice, cold Pepsi in the shade of a tree.
Alfredo pointed out a howler monkey sitting quietly overhead. I also spotted a pair of toucans in all their resplendent glory, sitting just above my head.
At the end of our tour, I stayed in the main plaza and read the guidebook I'd bought at the entrance. It was written by William Robertson Coe II, an archaeologist who'd worked at the site through the University of Pennsylvania. By then, the insects were gnawing on me, despite my XXX-rated repellant. And while the mosquitoes kept their distance, some tiny, black critters sure liked my blood! So, I went in search of a good breeze, and I found it at the top of Temple II. Clouds blocked out the sun as I continued to read my guidebook. The view from the top was spectacular, across the main plaza to Temple I sitting 100 yards away, with a detailed complex on either side.
I chatted with a young German woman from Heidelberg, and then a Belgian couple, before finishing with a good Spanish workout with a park ranger. Then came a young man from Finland, and a French couple, the wife of which had cut her shin rather badly. So, I broke out my First-Aid kit and "patched her up." After carrying it around the world for some years, I was happy to finally use it, but not on myself!
It started to get cool around 5 o'clock, especially under the thick tree canopy, so I headed off on a trail, eventually finding my way to the main entrance. (One needed a permit to stay in the ruins from 6–8 pm. Apparently, the pyramids are worth seeing in the moonlight.)
By 5:30, I was in the pool. After a hard day of slashing through the humid jungle, there's nothing quite like a swim. Following that, I settled down in a restaurant with a new detective novel. I ordered fresh-squeezed orange juice; a plate of cantaloupe, watermelon, and pineapple; and a toasted bacon, tomato, and onion sandwich. It cost me all of $4!
Having started the day at 4 am, by 8 pm, I was starting to fade, and not long after, it was "lights out." Like all jungle environments, the room smelled musty from the high humidity, and the sounds of the night critters came in the open window. The good news was that the screens kept out the hungry insects.
[Next day] Early morning, it started to rain quite heavily, making a loud noise on the corrugated-iron roof. Despite that, I slept quite well until 9 o'clock. I lay in bed reading until 10, and then shaved and showered. Although the electricity was off, the water was hot, but the pressure was quite low. All the water is carted in from a large lake 30-odd miles away. As the local soil is so porous, ground water is not retained, so wells are no good.
Late morning, I packed and handed in my room key, and left my backpack in the lobby. I was told that the bus to the airport would depart around 2 pm. I'd eaten a boiled egg for breakfast, but now it was lunchtime. I ordered scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, and bacon. When it arrived, the usual black-bean paste was present. I washed that all down with coffee while writing in this diary.
The site has at least three lodges and a nice campground. The government has done a good job of keeping the place simple and clean. As I approached the museum, it started to drizzle. There, I bought some postcards and looked over the exhibits, which were mostly altars and stele. I also bought a 70-minute video of the area, so I could re-experience the trip from back at home. It rained quite heavily, but stopped when I walked back to the hotel. I sat under a thatched roof by the pool sipping a cold bottle of Pepsi, and the rain started up again.
A Stay in Flores in Flood!
While waiting for my bus, I read a bit about the town of Flores, my next stop. It took an hour to drive south to the airport, where most passengers got out. The driver then dropped me at Pasada el Toucan, a cheap hotel recommended by my guidebook. It was fully booked, and I was told to try next door, at Villa del Largo. They had one double room left for Q70, which wasn't expensive, but I declined. As I sat reading my guidebook for other options, the manager told the desk clerk to offer me the single rate of Q40, and I promptly agreed and paid for two nights. The bed was comfortable, and an electric fan was mounted on one wall. There were two shared bathrooms. It certainly was more than adequate. The back patio led to a dock right on the lake. In fact, the lake had flooded the lower back yard, which in a normal season is 100 feet from the water's edge!
Flores is a densely packed town situated on an island in the lake with a causeway to the mainland. By mid-afternoon, I set out to walk around the island. The street running around the edge was under two feet of water, and there were gangplanks leading to the front doors of many houses and other buildings. I was especially amused by a rather rundown beauty parlor still in operation despite water lapping the front doorstep. There was a flat-topped hill in the center with a church and a small park complete with coconut palms, shrubs, and trees.
I found a grocery store that had everything from cornflakes to rat poison! I bought milk, juice, and cookies. By then, the sky was black, and rain was imminent. It came soon after and positively teemed down, so I waited some 15 minutes in several stores and talked to a young woman at a travel agency. Unfortunately, she hadn't been to any of the places she sent her clients. Once the rain stopped, I headed home.
I was hungry, so I headed out to find somewhere to eat, and I soon settled on a place nearby primarily as it was well lit, so I could read. Of course, no sooner I'd ordered, the power on that side of the island went out. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Within minutes, the staff brought me a candle that was so small I could hardly see the table let alone read my book. Unfortunately, the enchiladas weren't very tasty and were only partly offset by the coffee.
The power was still off when I got back to my hotel, but there were two very large altar candles in the lobby. An elderly man was on duty, and I had trouble understanding him. Eventually, I got from him the Spanish words for candle and matches. After an hour, the power came back, and the quiet town started booming with music and TVs blaring.
I read until 9 o'clock and then collapsed, leaving the fan on more to drown out the music rather than because it was hot. However, I couldn't sleep, and at 10:15, I started reading again, finally getting to sleep at 11.
[Next day] I woke at 8:15 and read until I finished my book. Breakfast was a tall glass of chocolate milk and some cookies; YES! At 10:30, I made myself reasonably presentable and set out across the causeway to the mainland town of Santa Elena. There, I sat in a small park and wrote some postcards. I picked a street at random and set out to explore the neighborhood and stumbled on a bustling market and commercial district. It was a typical Latin-American market: imagine a 5-acre pigsty the day after a heavy rain. Then imagine 100–200 small stalls erected there in a drunken stupor! The stalls were built of odd bits of wood and old galvanized iron sheets, all held together by bits of rope and canvas. Narrow and dark walkways meandered between the rows of stalls. They sold everything from electronics and toys to silver-tipped cowboy boots and saddles.
I stopped in the shade to drink a nice cold Pepsi and to watch the world go by. There was an army base out near the airport, and a truck full of soldiers came and carried off a large stack of boxes of fresh eggs, all done with military precision, not! I found my way to the post office, which reminded me of when I was a kid playing "shops;" you know, cartons and crates set up as a counter. The postal clerk efficiently stamped my cards.
On the walk back over the causeway, a boatman offered me a ride out on the lake. While I was interested, I told him the price was too high. He lowered it enough and we pushed off at noon and headed across to a small zoo on the mainland. There were some impressive jaguars, pumas, monkeys, and rodents of some species I'd not seen before. Next up, we stopped at the base of a hill, and I climbed to the top to find a huge tree with stairs up to a platform. I could see well out over the lake to surrounding towns. Two hours after we'd started, he dropped me back at Flores where I snacked on some tasty potato trips as I walked home. Then I read and napped.
Early evening, I started a new novel, and then headed out in search of supper. I found a nice place set over the water. My first choice wasn't available, the alternate choice was only fair, the dessert wasn't quite what I expected, and they had no coffee! Then they could not make change from a Q50 bill, and the waiter had to go and find change, taking 15 minutes. Apart from that, everything was wonderful!
I strolled around a bit before getting back home around 7:30, when I settled into my book until it was finished. Lights out by 9:30.
Back to the Capital
[Next day] I had the fan on most of the night to keep the insects away. I started the day in bed with a new novel. After a shave and a shower, I packed my gear. It was only 9:45 am, and my plane didn't leave until 4 pm, so I had a lot of time to kill. It was another sunny day in Paradise! I sat in the shade in a park, searching in my guidebook for a place to stay back in the capital.
I went out in search of some food and found a nice restaurant where I was the only customer. My ham and cheese omelet was exceptionally good, as was the milk coffee. However, when I asked the waiter for another cup, he informed me that they had no more milk. Say what!
I ambled back to the hotel and left my pack in the lobby. Then it was nap time, but I couldn't find a shady spot to stretch out. I watched the world go by, which mostly involved a middle-aged woman doing laundry by hand in a corrugated-iron lean-to. I walked a bit and found a nice patch of soft grass in the shade, so I laid down and closed my eyes. Well, don't you know, I felt a slight drizzle on my face and when I opened my eyes, a black cloud loomed right overhead. Within seconds, it was raining quite heavily. It lasted only 15 minutes, but afterwards there were no dry places to sit!
Eventually, a taxi drove by, and I hailed it. I got my gear and we drove to the airport arriving around 2:30. The "terminal" was a big, open shed, and although there was security, it was "out to lunch" when I arrived, so I walked right in. Later, a guy came and checked all hand luggage as people entered. I tried to buy postcards at several stalls, but they couldn't change a Q20 bill. Then I spied a stall with potato chips, but it was closed.
A number of us boarded an un-marked plane at 4:10, and we took off. It was a relatively new twin-engine craft with some 25 seats, fewer than half of which were occupied. We flew at 10,500 feet and the trip was uneventful, as one likes flights to be. I snagged the front seat, as that was the only one with enough room for my long legs. After 45 minutes, Guatemala City came into view. We landed swiftly, and taxied right into a hangar. We each grabbed our luggage as it was unloaded.
A taxi driver asked if I needed a ride, and I said, "Si," so we walked to his cab parked nearby and headed out. He stopped along the way trying to solicit other passengers at various hangars eventually arriving back where we'd started. Then he transferred me to another guy's cab, and we repeated the process, eventually enticing one other person, after which we headed for the downtown area, during peak-hour traffic. He dropped me at my hotel, and I checked in.
At 6 pm, I headed out for 6th Avenue, the main place for shopping, eating, and nightlife. I hadn't been interested to spend much time in the Capital and was pleasantly surprised at how clean it was. The stalls on the sidewalks made it crowded, but being two feet taller than everyone else, it wasn't at all claustrophobic. I was heading for McDonalds and could almost taste their French fries. Along the way, I came across a complex of six theaters, and not having seen a movie in four whole days, I checked out the program. One at 7:15 looked promising. Then, right there in front of me was a Pizza Hut; Yes! So, I ordered a small Supreme and ate outdoors.
At 7:15, I'd bought my ticket and was seated waiting for the start of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero. The best I can say about the movie was that it helped pass the time and it was cheap. By 9:30, I was seated in McDonalds having the fries I'd drooled over earlier, along with a mug of hot chocolate. It was the first McDonalds I'd ever seen with an armed guard! He had a pump-action shotgun, a pistol, and handcuffs.
Back in my room, I read a while. Lights out at 10:30.
[Next day] Although I was wide awake at 7:30, I lay there until 8 o'clock and then read until 9:15. I decided to stay the final night in the same hotel. As I was almost out of local currency, I asked the front-desk clerk if he'd take US$ cash, and he said, "No problemo!"
So, where to go for breakfast? McDonalds, of course! I ate an egg-and-sausage sandwich smothered in ketchup followed by a mug of hot chocolate while I worked on this diary. I strolled down 6th Avenue to a park, an area the size of at least two city blocks. There were plenty of trees, seats, and a performance stage. I made my way over to the Presidential Palace nearby. A band of seven men played double bass, drums, and two very long, multi-person xylophones. I sat and listened to them play for quite some time. That week was the 50th anniversary of the Palace's construction, and there was a small exhibit, which I visited. I toured the three main floors and was quite impressed by the building, the courtyards, gardens, and fountains. Many government ministries were located there. After that, I sat in the park by the large fountain and watched the world go by then read my novel.
At 4:15, I bought a movie ticket and settled in for the 4:30 showing of Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone. What a movie; it had me on the edge of my seat from the get-go! It ended at 6:20, and I raced off to buy a ticket for a 6:30 show, Death Train. It too was great!
Not having eaten all day, I was ready to "eat a horse and chase the rider!" Although I saw McDonalds off in the distance, I went to Burger King instead, where I washed down a bacon-cheese burger with hot chocolate. As my final night in Guatemala wound down, I was more than ready to be home. It was after 9 pm when I walked to my hotel, and the street stalls were being packed up for the night. Lights out at 10 pm.
[Next day] I woke at 2:30, then again at 4:30, and finally at 5:30, 10 minutes before my alarm was due to go off. I was dressed and packed in 10 minutes, and out front in a taxi at 5:45, speeding toward the international airport. Although the city was starting to come alive, it wasn't yet crowded.
I was third in line at the check-in counter, and everything went smoothly. Then, as I went through security the alarm sounded. However, none of the attendants seemed to hear it or care, so after waiting there a minute with no-one coming, I walked through. Great security, huh? I was supposed to depart at 7:45, but there was a long backup at customs/immigration, so we were delayed 30 minutes.
Finally, our lightly loaded Boeing 757 took off. Breakfast was decent: three smoked sausages, tortilla, an omelet containing my daily vegetable requirements, bread roll, butter, cinnamon roll, and coffee. Soon we were over Mexico and a mountainous desert. As we approached a volcano, I recognized it from the previous year's flight when I flew up from Costa Rica. There was snow on the ground. Smoke was rising from the volcano's cone as we flew by only a few miles away.
We came in over Mexico City, a sprawling metropolis of 20+ million people. A thick, brown cloud of pollution hung around 1,000–2,000 feet up. We landed, and although I didn't have to change planes, I did have to deplane and re-board. So, what did I do on the way to Washington's Dulles airport? I watched a movie, of course: Sleepless in Seattle, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. According to the menu—which is still in pristine condition 28 years later—I ate a green garden salad served with a tangy vinaigrette dressing, followed by sliced roast beef with a caramelized onion and comino (cumin, that is) sauce, accompanied by green beans, celery, potato, sweet pepper casserole, and sautéed red peppers. Dessert involved cookies.
So, after never having thought about going to Guatemala, I'd spent three weeks there, and it was fine. I'd worked on my Spanish and had a bit of a look around, and I was quite impressed with the Mayan ruins.