Saturday, June 16, 2007

Guatemala Trip Report II: Views On The Saddest Pleasure

Coban, Department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala--

There´s something a bit sad about returning to a place visited fifteen years ago, especially as we turn the bend into the 21st Century. I spent five weeks in Guatemala in 1992, a time before internet cafes, cell phones and brand-spankingly new paved roads running between Nebaj and Coban. It was a different country back then, and while I respect and understand the Guatemalan desire to be just like us in the ¨First World¨, it´s sad in a selfish way to see the traditional white huipiles of Nebaj turn into second-hand smocks and t-shirts donated by evangelical church types with graphics like ¨Muhlenberg County Football¨on them.

On the other hand, my kidneys appreciate the fact that they only bounced outrageously the last twenty Km from Nebaj, and that the spectacular valley drop and rise between Cucun and San Cristobal was paved with blacktop laid only days and weeks before. We saw a cyclist going roughly 100 kmh down the steep, ultra-smooth pavement, and in a cheesy way that cyclist pretty much typifies the entire country of Guatemala in 2007 relative to 1992.

Coban is waking up slowly this Saturday morning, gearing up for the big Copa America soccer match with Canada this late morning. We´ll be driving up toward Flores-Tikal and will miss it, but I´m reminded of watching a soccer match in 1992 in Quetzaltenango. The viewing experience consisted of an ancient projection TV with color separation problems thrown up against a large white bedsheet at the back wall of a completely packed municipal hall. This morning, our hotel staff today suggested we could see the game at any bar or restaurant in town.

Convenient..but a bit sad. Or maybe it´s just sad because I´m finally old enough that I can moan about how things have changed, and how simple things used to be and all that excruciatingly boring crap old people prattle on about. Yeah, there´s that too.

Onward to Sayaxche, howler monkeys and massive sweating....

p.s.: The title reference to ¨The Saddest Pleasure¨ is the name of a book by Moritz Thomsen about traveling through South America. If you get a chance, read this quite amazing book. I´m not one to recommend things, but I can´t escape the need to tell eveyone how great this book is and how it can change one´s view on the travel experience. IMHO, needless to say.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure your big American dollers spend just as well now as they did 15 years ago. And maybe someday they'll turn that newly paved road into a bicycle boulevard. Progress!

FloresTikal said...

Thanks for the tip on the book. Do you have a copy with you?

history said...

To paraphrase Bowie, My little Guatamalana you shouldn't mess with me, I'll ruin everything you are. You know the rest.