La Despedida

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, March 29, 2004

It was with great reluctance that we finally made the decision to leave the ter Kuile hacienda, after a glorious month in Guatemala. Our planned day of departure had come and gone several times, but finally we decided we would have to leave this place of infinite beauty behind if we were to continue our southbound journey. We were dreading having to say farewell to Alberto, Juliana and all their kids, as they had been such an important part of our stay. There were lots of hugs and tears before we were ready to head up the driveway for the last time.

Just who is this family who had made such an impact on us? Alberto has been the guardian of the hacienda and adjoining property for the past six years. With his wife Juliana and their eight children, they live in a small house on the property, and make sure that everything is ready and prepared for visitors. Alberto is from the local village of Xepéc, and has rarely travelled more than 20 km from home. He spends his days lovingly tending the flower gardens, and watering terrace upon terrace of vegetables - tomatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli - that he sells in the local market at Sololá . Although he has very little formal education, his love and knowledge of plants and flowers is boundless, and his face would light up whenever we asked him about his work. He delighted in bringing us fresh produce from the garden - a dozen ripe avocados one time, a basket of luscious tomatoes another. He was in awe of the photos we showed him of the Herb Garden, especially the ones with us working in our rubber boots.....just like his!! Each evening, after sunset when the mountain air became cooler, Alberto would light a fire in our sunken living room fireplace, and would then stay for a visit that became a little longer every day.

Juliana was born and raised in Caserio Chuyia, a community just a few km down the hill from Alberto's village, but the local Mayan languages they grew up with are different, so they converse mostly in Spanish. She is only in her mid-thirties but with eight children ranging in age from 2 to 15, and a ninth one rather visibly on the way, she has time for little other than cooking, cleaning and washing the clothes. She is, however, a very strong character, and is the one who generally takes responsibility for ensuring that the children meet all the requirements for school. On numerous occasions, she would go off to the schools in Xepéc or San Andres Semetabaj for parent/teacher meetings, or to help with various functions. A lot of her time was spent looking after the two youngest children, Sylvia Beatriz, 4, and the new arrival since our last visit, two-year-old Elmer Gerardo.

Eddy Maudilio and Hebert Eduardo, 10 and 8 respectively, really stole our hearts as they frequently came to visit, often accompanied by their gorgeous dog Coyote. Sometimes their sisters Angelica and Otilia Lisette, 11 and 6, would come as well, and they would ask if they could use the colouring books and felt tip pens that we had brought with us. For an hour or more, they would be quietly enthralled with their works of art, and always brought them to show us what they had created. After the colouring was finished, they would turn into normal rambunctious children playing with Coyote, but always polite and very considerate of each other. One afternoon we climbed up the hill to Xepéc to visit the boys at their school, but they were outside playing with their friends as the teacher had failed to show up for classes (apparently a fairly common occurrence as their government pay cheque only arrives intermittently).

We didn't see as much of the two oldest boys on this trip as we did two years ago. Edgar Alfredo and Alvario Daniel, 15 and 14, are continuing their education at a private school in San Andres and hike the 3km down the hill every day at midday, and back again in the evening. State schooling is no longer available at their age and it costs 80 Quetzales a month (about Cdn $10) for these extra classes. This is a considerable expense for the family (as modest an amount as it may seem in our terms), and it shows the high priority that Alberto and Juliana give to this aspect of bringing up their family. In the mornings the two boys would help their father in tending the gardens and chopping and splitting firewood.

The entire family was fascinated with the photos that we took of them, especially as we were able to instantly transform them into a slide show on our laptop computer .The laughter of our two mischievous imps, Eddy Maudilio and Hebert Eduardo, was particularly infectious as they saw themselves for the first time in full screen colour! One afternoon we spent time fighting a bush fire at a neighbouring property, and Herbert Eduardo, who had come to help, was rewarded with having his picture taken on the volunteer fire engine. On our last day at the hacienda we had a small despedida, or farewell party, and all enjoyed some sweet pastries and soft drinks. The bright orange wheelbarrow was a big hit with all the family, as was the brand new soccer ball, and helped to distract us from our imminent departure.

After breakfast on the patio on our final morning, we were overjoyed to discover that a bright red cactus flower that we had been watching develop for several days had finally opened in its full glory, as if to bid us farewell. A few more tearful hugs with Alberto and Juliana, and then we were finally ready to drive down out of the highlands to the coastal plain and head east towards the El Salvador border.
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