New shoes for Gustavo

Trip Start Jan 13, 2008
Trip End Jan 20, 2008

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Thursday, January 17, 2008

We arrive in our second port, Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, early. After breakfast we prepare to disembark. Michael and I are feeling adventurous; we want to see what this place has to offer.
As soon as we walk off the ship we feel the intense heat of the day. Actually, it feels good. Look what awaits us up ahead ... a shopping center. No doubt this cruise is all about shopping and most of the passengers seem more than ready to take advantage of all the deals ... including Arlette and Ma-ma.
Once inside, we see tour guides offering to take people to various locations, but we opt out, deciding instead to explore the town on our own. The shopping area is very clean with a small eating area, a stage where various local groups perform native dances, and three wide rows of vendors selling everything from T-shirts to tablecloths. We meander through the marketplace, making note of the prices, but not committing to buy anything now since we know we'll have to pass through here again on the way back to the ship.
Not sure if Ma-ma and Pa-pa are up to strolling the streets of Santo de Tomas, we give them the option of sitting it out. They could spend a few hours in the shopping area where there are seats and food and a continuous cultural show, or they can come with us and walk the streets. We don't know where we're going or how far we'll walk, so be forewarned. Ma-ma, never wanting to be left behind says, "I'm coming with you." So off we go exploring.
The area just outside the shopping area is residential with clean streets and modest homes surrounded by a variety of vegetation. It looks like a normal working class neighborhood in the states. There are very few people around-probably because they're at work or school. As we stroll through the neighborhood walking two by two, a little boy approaches Arlette and strikes up a conversation. "No speak Spanish," she says. However, he continues following us, and between the six of us we manage to find out a bit about him. His name is Gustavo, he's 10 years old, he has four sisters and two brothers and he lives nearby. By the time we find out all of this information, we've adopted little Gustavo as our tour guide for the day and he happily agrees to lead us to the local marketplace, which I'm sure Ma-ma thinks will resemble a mall or Wal-Mart back home, but boy is she in for a surprise.
As we walk and talk with Gustavo, he bends down to show us the bottom of one of his rubber sandals. It has a hole in it the size of a quarter. If you ever wanted to know how to melt six hearts all at once, Gustavo had found it. If that didn't top everything, he flipped over the other shoe to expose a matching hole. "You do a lot of walking, huh?" Arlette says. Gustavo smiles, "Si, senorita." As he guides us through the dusty streets with broken concrete sidewalks, he asks us questions about ourselves-where we're from, who's related to whom, do we have children-and we do our best to understand him and answer in Spanish. Gustavo is quite the conversationalist.
"How far is the market?" we ask. "Pequito," he says, pointing and indicating that it's just a little further ahead. Suddenly, he scampers off, then quickly returns with three red flowers-one for Ma-ma, one for Arlette and one for me. How sweet. He's really a charmer.
Up ahead we can see a busy street with pedestrians, cars, trucks, mopeds and bicycles traveling the rocky, dusty street. This must be the place. As we round the corner we see a makeshift marketplace, similar to what we would call a swap meet or flea market. They sell everything here: clothing, food, DVDs and more. So in essence, it really is a Guatemalan Wal-Mart.
Immediately, Michael goes about finding some new shoes for Gustavo. The little boy finds a pair; Michael tells him to ask the shopkeeper how much they cost. "Three dollars," Gustavo tells Michael, with the shopkeeper following closely behind him. When Michael pulls out three dollars, the shopkeeper tells him that the shoes are actually four dollars. Do we have "Sucker" written on our faces? He tells our little friend one price, then realizes that we're American and tells us another price. No way; we're not falling for the okey doke. Michael gives him three dollars for the shoes and Gustavo quickly slips them on and races to a nearby trashcan to toss his old faithful sandals.  

The marketplace resembles one of those old world markets where everything is out in the open. There's red snapper fish piled high (not on ice, just right there), vegetables stacked neatly, flies everywhere and lots of little children running around. "Hola, hola," yells a tiny voice from behind us. "Hola," Arlette yells back. And we know we have another little friend. This one, however, is only about two years old and he follows us around the market, singing hola, hola the entire time.
David picks up a few DVDs for $3, Ma-ma gets a bottle of water for $.50, and Michael buys Gustavo a new backpack for $7, but the smile on his little face is absolutely priceless. Then he decides to lead us to la playa, the beach. As we walk along the street, we pass a pair of horses. What are horses doing walking in the street? We have no idea, but there they are. Then two of Gustavo's friends join us, Christian and Andres, both 11 years old. "Mi amigos," Gustavo explains to his friends, just to let them know that he's not sharing his friends, or any of his treasures, with these two guys.
La playa seems to be a little bit further than we realized. Ma-ma needs to rest. "Donde esta la playa? How much further?" I ask. "Pequito, ma-ma," he says glancing at Ma-ma. He can tell she needs to rest so we stop at a little corner shop for a cold drink. Once we're rested, we go over to the nearby park, which has a lovely pond. Gustavo explains the he swims there often. To demonstrate, he immediately strips down to his swim trunks and jumps in! We are all shocked at his youthful exuberance and we bust out laughing. Then he runs over to an area with a high platform and jumps from it, plunging into the water below. That looks like fun, but the water looks kind of scary-dirty with lots of mosquitoes and tadpoles swimming around in there. But that doesn't stop Gustavo and his friends from enjoying a dip in the pool. Their jumping reminds me of the cliff divers Michael and I saw when we were in Acapulco.  

After that display, we're all ready to head back to the ship. The walk back is brief. We pass the Naval Base. And then it's time to bid farewell to our little friend.
Michael gives him a nice little tip for his services and even gives Andres a few bucks for hanging with us. We hug them both and bid them farewell then go back to the Norwegian Spirit. We won't soon forget little Gustavo.

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