Oot in the sticks in Guatemally

Trip Start May 07, 2003
Trip End Sep 05, 2005

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Sunday, October 19, 2003

My last week in El Salvador was a poignant affair, after one last week teaching and sadly refusing many offers to stay on for longer, both schools, very kindly put on a wee do for me. Totally uncalled for considering I'd only been there a month but I'm never one to complain when a party gets thrown! In the Catholic school, it was hilarious, just imagine, around a 180 or so prepubescent girls and a dozen female teachers, then there's little old me, the only male in the feckin' place! Well scary, let me tell you! I had to dance meringue wi all these dozens of women, stone cold sober, in the morning, and I'm the baddest dancer you've ever seen - as you all know! Afterwards, many tearful goodbyes and promises to return. The whole month was an unforgettable experience, and it was amazing to have touched so many lives in such a short time. All the volunteers here become gob-smacked by the reception you get from these kids, it's quite overwhelming. Not to mention the headstart they get in life by knowing just a bit of English, even if it is maybe tinged with that unmistakable Scottish twang! - which I'm now starting to lose - Noooooooo!

Then a return to ma Shangri La. Guatemala.

After all I needed a vacation! When you first visit this place, it enchants you; when you leave, all you want to do is return; then when you do return you find it near impossible to leave again! So I made it up to Antigua for the usual Saturday night shenanigans, but really missed all you guys from the first time, it somehow wasn't the same. I did meet a load of cool lads though: an Irishman, a Kiwi, a Canadian, and an Englishman. A recipe for unadulterated hedonism, I hear you all say! Me? Never! So all us boys headed up to San Pedro, one of my favourite places and back to the overwhelming beauty of Lago Atitlan

This is one place in the world everyone should go at least once. There's something very magical about the way the volcanoes poke through the rings of ever changing clouds, the loch shimmers like dark blue silk in the morning, framing the upside down volcanoes. By afternoon the angry Xochomil wind of the Mayan gods whips up the dark loch into a frenzy, making crossing the water a menacing, if even impossible affair.

The fact the place is the cheapest in Guatemala, awash with quality weed and the food like nothing I've tasted outside ma maws kitchen has nowt to do with it!

After a well deserved week on the lake, I headed north into the Quiche highlands, a place where the indigenous traditions of ancient Guatemala are still the strongest and the most colourful, away from all the touristy bollocks. Got one of those Guatemalan Formula one style vehicles; what you call them? Oh aye, those brilliant chicken buses!

They still don't cease to amaze me these things, painted like flying fruit machines, wi names like Esmerelda or Francesca? bangin' sound systems beltin' out the shitest UK house from the 90's remixed in da terrible Guatemalan stylee. Picking up passengers onto the already impossibly crowded bus could be compared to an F1 pitstop, the guy humps three huge sacks of maiz on the roof, pushes three wifies, a dozen kids and a box of chickens thru the door and yet the bus doesn't actually even come to a halt! Most of them, have "dios es mi guia" signs swinging on Rosaries from the mirror. Presumably that means the good Lord guides them round all those blind corners when overtaking then?! So I checked out the market in Chichicastenango, the best in Gta, a maelstrom of colour and noise, some fine shit, I bought a banana.

Then high up into the Ixil Triangle. A place hidden in the mountains and seemingly far removed from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, it's known mainly for being the place that the worst atrocities of the terrible 36 year civil war here happened. I stayed in Nebaj, the biggest government garrison town during the war, many guerillas fought and hid in the surrounding hills. A friendly local called Gaspar took us on a tour over the spectacular mountain range and down to a village on the other side. This was one of the model villages built after the government flattened them in their mindless cruelty, looking for Guerillas (450 Mayan villages were wiped out by the army's own admission during the war). We walked thru the town and the normally friendly smiling kids ran back in to their homes or clung to their mothers in fear, not a word was spoken (maybe they couldn't speak Spanish as the native Ixil is sometimes only known) and some of them looked near to tears. He showed us the graveyard, twice as big as the present village, all of the dates on the graves were between 1978 and 1984 - the worst period of the conflict, where the army carried out a "scorched earth" policy. Apparently 900 people were tortured and executed in one massacre, and 450 a few years later. Women old & young brutally gang raped and disemboweled, children dangled screaming by their hair while a comrade clubbed their heads in, all the bodies unforgivably mutilated post mortem to stop relatives from being able to bury them - if they were lucky - most got left to the hunger of the dogs or vultures. These dogs became so used to eating human flesh, that the soldiers used them, when committing acts of genocide by tying people to stakes, then letting the dogs rip them apart. An unbelievable story, told by a man who himself had seen some of the worst acts and lost every living member of his family at the age of ten. He fled over the mountains to Mexico as a refugee and only returned a few years ago to put what was left of his life back together. Sorry for the somber note folks but this filled me with rage and I thought you should hear it. This is ONE OF MANY US sponsored atrocities committed by government forces here against innocent civilians. This goverment is unbelievably still in power and is running in the elections which are taking the country by storm at them moment. Pray that they (FRG) and their evil leader Rios Montt don't get in again, or try to retake the presidency by military force if they don't. Hopefully when a decent president gets in, he'll shoot the fuckers for genocide.

Then my crazed journey south-east started. Tried to get a chicken bus down the hill at 5am, but would you believe it, they couldn't actually fit any more folk in! Unheard of in chicken bus circles and if you've been to Guatemala, I'm sure you'll be shocked! Seeing as it was one of only a few that morning the boy said we could go on the roof. So I clambered up and, there's two gruntin' pigs and a sheep tied to the railing at the top! It had to be the best way to ride, wi the wind in yer hair, spectacular scenery, no chickens clucking in yer puss and no fat granny sitting on your knee. I laughed all the way down the hill at the sheep and the pigs sliding about on their trotters, unsuited to keeping balance on the roof of a bus sidewinding rapidly down a mountainside, baaing and snorting about trying not to fall off! Caught the first of many pickup trucks that day where I paid for my last comment with a fat pink granny sitting on mi knee who had a prize cock on her lap. Jumped on another two slowly winding my way south to Uspantan. From there was a four hour ride, said to be the most beautiful road in Guatemala, through some of the most remote and dramatic scenery in the country, east to Coban.

It started out, just me and a few other locals, slowly it filled up till there was around thirty Mayans and me on the back of this pickup truck! Every time we hit a bump the shocks bottomed out, it had no treads and skidded, back fired and banged it's way for 4 long hours along this mountain pass, littered at the bottom were the twisted metal skeletons of the less fortunates. I had a young indian lady sitting between my legs. She promptly upon sitting on me, wapped out her plump pap and thrust it into her bairns' mouth. I didn't quite know where to look considering it filled my entire field of vision but the wee one thirstily sucked them both dry, burped a couple of times, then regurgitated the entire contents of his mothers ample assets all over my shoes! I suppose my poor zapatos should be used to it by now what wi having me as the owners!

So from Coban, caught another couple of teeth shattering pickups to Semuc Champey.

Guatemala really could rewrite the 7 wonders of the world with these places. It was formed over 1000's of years to make a natural Limestone bridge 300m long, set in a steep deep valley, over a big, powerful river.

It has created something very unique, this huge fast-flowing river squeezes into a tunnel underneath, creating a thundering vortex of whitewater. This transcends on the top to the most tranquil turquoise and emerald natural spas, dozens of them which flow gradually down into each other to the end in a high trickling waterfall where the rumbling river once more joins. Totally bizarre, and a impossible to describe.

I spent all day lazing about on my tractor tyre inner tube, flopping from pool to pool. Then we went tubing into a nearby cave, said to be part of the Mayan underworld. We floated thru the bat infested tunnel, fertile with huge stalactites then climbed up inside to a separate cave system, walked along, clambered up a waterfall and slid back down to the underground river.

That night, after a few beers, we walked back up to Champey and wandered down to the river with our tubes. Jumped in then floated slowly all the way down the river for a half an hour, beer in hand to the hotel. The only way to travel!

Then took a grueling 6 or 7 different sardine can mini-vans from there to Rio Dulce after having to spend a night in the rankest hotel in the universe in the middle of nowhere. I got a lancha up the jungle draped gorge to another Garifuna town, Livingstone.

A return to the Caribbean. Lovely to be back amongst the wonderful Garifuna's. Their unique language is amazingly infectious, formed over the centuries during slavery and continual resettlement, with it's origins in around 16 different lingos including Arahuaco, French, Swahili, and Bantu. This was the 12th different language I had heard in fortnight, confundo or what! Met another crazy Scotsman, an Irish girl and an Americana. We went on a jungle tour after guzzling a few beers on this cool sundeck with comfy hammocks swinging in the sea breeze. It was two stories up, the Caribbean washing up far below. Had a few spliffs of the local green and proceeded to piss ourselves with laughter for hours on end. Afterwards we thought it'd be a good idea to climb up a waterfall half drunk and dive off the top!

Before a hasty return to El Salvador (a week late - oops!) I had to make a quick visit to Finca Paraiso. A normal river runs down thru the jungle into a cold pool. Above a serene waterfall of red hot volcanic spring water flows down from the top, creating a natural Jacuzzi. A few hours relaxing at the foot of it gave the best massage I could have hoped for after so many bone-jangling days on the road.

So now, I'm back in San Salvador. Started a building project on Monday. We're reconstructing class rooms of a school that was destroyed in the devastating 2001 earthquake. Well we're actually relaying the floors which involve shifting tones of dirt/concrete/gravel from one room to the other to level them out. Feckin hard work, we must've shifted two truck fulls in the last three days. I'm sure they're taking the piss these Salvadoreno builders, once we've moved a pile from one place to another, they'll then tell us to move that same pile somewhere else!! My fingers are getting totally fucked, they keep getting seized onto the pick axe, it's actually taken me 3 days to write this email wi the thing banging off the desk!!

Buenos noches
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