Trip Start Dec 12, 2002
Trip End Aug 01, 2003

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, April 7, 2003

Well, hello from San Salvador capital of El Salvador. The central American country with propably the worst image.(No, Columbia is not in central America) But, I think it's not so bad actually..
Special atmosphere here with elections coming next week. Quite some tension in the air. Guatemala was really worth while but, future travelers be warned : it's dangerous!!! Armed gangs attack coaches, especially the ones carrying tourists. Sometimes the bandits are already in the bus, putting on their ski masks during the ride, sometimes the bus has to stop for a road blockade where after the heavily armed gangsters take the bus to a quite road where the passengers are robbed and sometimes beaten...
The luxury international touring cars like Ticabus and the direct buses between tourist destinations are the most dangerous. The best way to avoid problems is to travel by chicken bus but there you must watch your luggage!
Guatemala is also dirty and overpopulated. The government and the president are gangsters, real ones not by a way of speaking. The president is a murderer and he uses that in his elections campaign!!! I talked with the Austrian owner of a restaurant who desperately wanted to leave, to Costa Rica or Panama. His daughter was kidnapped recently and that's supposed to be a very normal practice in Guatemala, like pick pockets in Europe!

In El Salvador, it seems to be a little better politicly, and not so dangerous, but this is not really a beautiful country. Somewhat half the size of Belgium, El Salvador counts 9 million people. Everywhere forests are burned (like in their neighbor Guatemala) en the cities are too big to be good.

After a great diving week in Roatan en the magnificent Maya ruins in Copan back in the bus for Guatemala. In the old Capital, Antigua Guatemala or simply Antigua we decided to take a week of Spanish lessons. Antigua is famous for it's Spanish schools, more than hundred they say, and is a beautiful old city, sleeping in the shadow of three volcanoes. In the morning Spanish with private teacher, in the afternoon free to climb a volcano or visit neighboring towns, and in the evening watch a Spanish movie with English subtitles...
However, even in this beautiful and very touristic town a feeling of insecurity comes over you. When visiting some monuments just out of town like the graveyard, you are advised to get a free escort from the 'tourist police!!!' It is said that without the escort the chance to get robbed is very high.

Well, I don't let it spoil my happy mood. And a visit to the Maya God 'San Simon' or 'Maximon' is a great experience...
San Simon (a statue, off course) sits in a kind of chapel, in a shrine, dressed in a black suit, a big cigar in his mouth and a bottle of booze in his pocket... The Indian people (mostly woman) ask him favors and are offering chickens, eggs, cigars, candles and alcohol.... The priest drinks the alcohol en spits it back in the face of the worshiper, smokes the gigantic cigars in halve a minute or so and beats evil out of the people with a branch of a tree...
I took no chances and I burned a candle for San Simon, a pink one, symbol for good health. Emma took a blue one, symbol for happiness....

Climbing the volcano Pacaya was a total different matter. After two hours climbing under supervision of a guide and a security man the volcano thought it necessary to let us feel it's presents... First a very thick fog stopped us from seeing anything at all. After that a rain of very small and some not so small lava stones pondered on our heads. When the guide gave us the advice to turn around we protested unanimously and practically blind we continued our ascend. At maybe 20 meters (60 ft) from the top, everybody started to cough like mad when a yellow solfer cloud from the crater descended over our group. That was enough! And back we marched! So close to our goal! Well, better next time, enough volcanoes here!
From Antigua, where we stayed a week, up to San Pedro at the 'Lago Atitlan. The local people call it the most beautiful lake in the world and I belief that this might be true! San Pedro is a Maya village where a lot of American and European hippies get stuck. It is indeed a place that you might call the sticky kind!
De Mayans are the vast majority of this country (about 60%) and most of them still speaks their language. (about 20 different dialects). They still use their traditional clothes and the religion is a mixture of catholic rites with their ancient Maya religion. The indigenous people have a serious revival in the Guatemalan society after years of discrimination and murder campaigns by the army. The children go to school in bilingual schools (Maya and Spanish) and they have high hopes that the representation in parliament will in increase after the next elections.
We are staying in Hotel Luna Azul for about 1 dollar a night. A hotel with only 1 room and no shower and no running water. We bathe our self s in the lake, just like the local people.
From our room we are looking at the lake and the 'Indian nose' mountain, a mountain in the shape of... right!
When leaving our hostess Anita and her doggie blackie gave us a big long hug. It's easy to understand why Europeans and other gringo's like this beautiful mountain land so much, but it is a explosive place and I believe that Guatemala is for away from becoming a emancipated democracy...

To be continued... in the next entry 'Back to Costa Rica'
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