Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Los Amigos

Flag of Guatemala  ,
Sunday, September 25, 2011

Taking a shuttle in Guatemala is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. On this journey we were fortunate to get a half-full (or is that half-empty?) mini-van. This meant that every two people could spread themselves across three seats. What a treat, especially for the 8 hour journey from Lanquin to Flores!

For a change, we could all get some sleep. All that is, except for Manuela who sat upfront with the driver before lunch. Juan gave clear instructions: The co-driver must stay awake! Well-rested and well-fed after lunch, Dee swapped seats with Manuela. This was to be a mutually beneficial exchange - Manuela could nap and Dee could practise Spanish with Juan. 

Immediately after the formalities of introductions, Juan launched straight into: "Eres casada?" (Are you married?). Waste no bloody time, hey, Don Juan?! Why is it that some men think this is ok to ask so soon in the conversation? I guess it's a qualifying question. Am I in with a chance here? Or am I wasting my time being nice to you? It's also a question that determines the path (and tone!) of the rest of the conversation. For me, it was off-putting to say the least but simultaneously you can't blame the guy for trying. If you don't ask, you don't get! 

For the rest of the journey the conversation was somewhat strained, partially due to my lack of Spanish but largely due to this first impression and my resulting lack of motivation. But at least I could get some pics along the way! Juan kept himself amused with constant phone calls to his women and hooting at every female-looking person along the way. 

Men in Latin America are reputed to display an above-average machismo, at least that's according to the Hollywood stereotype. According to Wikipedia (if you disagree, you edit it later ;) machismo is: "a word of Spanish and Portuguese origin that describes prominently exhibited or excessive masculinity. As an attitude, machismo ranges from a personal sense of virility to a more extreme male chauvinism."

In my experience in Guatemala they have mostly been shy and respectful. The only notable exception has been taxi drivers. Is that international, I wonder, recalling the behaviour of Cape Town taxi drivers who also fancy themselves charmers! Most men just tend to stare, I suspect because I look different - not white enough to be a gringa, yet not short enough to be Latina or Asian. Perhaps my experience is skewed by the presence of "mi hombre" (my man!). On two occasions when we walked a slight distance apart, I have heard cat whistles but nothing more. Either that or I can't understand the Spanish in that context. I count myself lucky! ;)

It's going to be an interesting case study to observe the differences in machismo throughout the Latin American countries. Everyone's experiences are different and so will be their consequent perceptions. It's rather amusing to say the least. There is an associated theory that I'm curious about: Latino men over-emphasise the masculinity they display to hide their tendency to be emotional. We've all heard of the passionate Latinos. Or is that yet another Hollywood stereotype? Watch this space!

BTW We loved Isla de Flores! It's a cool, laidback, small town across a bridge with lots of textile shops, good food and home to many upper income Guatemalans. A tell-tale sign is the shopping mall that sells big screen TVs and name-branded clothing. It was extremely hot, too hot to be outdoors even to jump in the lake, hence the night-time photos. We enjoying the night lights across the lake and amused ourselves with the local boys who tried to out-do each other with fancy diving moves. Be aware: if you ever buy what looks like deep-fried banana from a Flores food stall, it's NOT a dessert! We discovered this the hard way, biting into with great gusto, only to taste nauseating dodgy meat on the inside! Pitoooey!

The Gringo Path is clear and well-defined in Guatemala. That might explain why we were pleasantly reunited with four fellow travellers from various towns gone by, most notably Adi and Daniel from Israel! Apparently this happens a lot in Central America because it's a narrow strip running north to south, and it's hard to get off the beaten track without your own transport. An option only for the hardcore! i.e. not us!

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