Guatemala: Listen Much
Trip Start May 12, 2009
24Trip End Sep 29, 2009
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Guatemala is a place where you should be quick to listen, slow to
to judge. Slower still to speak.
Guatemala is more diverse and varied than I imagined.
Guatemala. Are you picturing Mayan women with their children in
colorful papuses on their backs trading handicrafts in an ancient
market in Chichicastenango? Are you picturing tortillas and pollo,
volcanoes and the crystal blue Lago de Atitlan?
Well, what I am seeing is the rolling hills of a show jumping horse
farm outside a major city. From my patio, I can see four volcanoes
including the active Pacaya near Antigua. The clouds roll in in
layers. Some are tinted blue by the mountains, others are red due to
fires in the city in the valley down below. The rising sun lines every
one with silver. On the hillside under my patio, beautiful bay
Thoroughbred broodmares are grazing. Up the hill behind my bunkhouse
is the owner´s fine home, set among hillsides of avocado trees.
In my first day here I was faced with a rapid succession of surprising facts:
1. Avestruces son loco. I remember writing an email at the beginning
of the trip stating my goals, including riding an ostrich for 8
Los avestruces son loco. When I approach the fence, they begin
hissing and raising their wings. If I continue forward, it looks like
they´ll peck me. I thought I was going to learn to handle ostriches
here at this farm. It turns out, they way they handle them is with 2
German Shephards. When they lay an egg, someone goes in the enclosure
with 2 German Shepherds and snatches the egg while the dogs run
Ostriches are huge animals. It is just crazy how something so big
can be dumber than a chicken. Seriously, the chickens are smarter.
I´ve heard they can be trained. Los avestruces son loco.
2. This is a high-level show jumping farm, not a backyard pony
operation. The horses in the barn are Peruvians, Arabians,
Thoroughbred, Hanover, Holsteiner, and Quarter. Not a single one
The most valuable horse is an imported grey Holsteiner stallion
standing at 18hh (that would be about 6 feet at the shoulder for the
city slickers). He is insured to US$150,000. An incredible animal.
3. The farm is owned by an Italian-German aristocrat with political
The estate house is appointed with an 1850´s baby grand piano and
10x8 oil paintings of his noble European ancestors, including framed
birth certificates, letters from presidents and kings, and preserved
photographs of official dignitary events. This computer is in the tack
room, and there is a crystal chandelier over my shoulder. There are
marble carvings of horses in action and coffeetable equestrian books.
4. Last night, the brother-in-law of the Guatemalan President visited
for drinks and to inspect los avestruces. A nice, clean-cut gentleman,
he and his wife arrived in their Hummer.
So where does this leave me? I am here to train green horses. My
accomodation is with the other foreigners working here, in a bunkhouse
halfway down the hill between the mansion at the top and the
nationals´ homes at the bottom of the hill. They are quite basic, like
any ranch bunkhouse I have ever lived in. But still, it´s mine, some
place to call home for a week or two. My roommate, Vicki, warned me
that if I don´t latch the door everytime I step out I may find a mare
or colt wandering the kitchen since broodmares are allowed to wander
the property while stallions are kept in the barn.
Vicki hails from Scotland and speaks quite good Spanish and is an
even better cook. Her companion James is a former middle-level manager
from Liverpool who majored in Latin American political history in
university. James is the kind of person who withholds passing
judgement, and waits to grant confianza even longer. He is very
insightful. Vicki cooks in the house and James is the handiman.
Then there is Rambo, a 19 year old from Quebec. He is invincible,
which is to say he is nineteen. He debates Pablo (the boss-man) daily
on the superiority of French over Spanish. He has little experience on
a ranch but much experience with videogames. He does not work with the
This is the stage on which my next week with play out. It is best
to watch, better yet to listen.
Cheers, and above all, PAZ,