Missing from guidebooks on Guatemala: rating villages and hotels by decibels of nearby roosters and missionaries. Okay, okay, the roosters are a natural part of the rural settingand even amusing from time to time. Earplugs provide the needed escape for good sleep.
On the other hand, the monotonous public broadcasts of services at the Christian missions defy escape. The volume of the PA systems is set so high that the sound penetrates for miles around. The subconscious mind is blasted and blasted and blasted. Question to self: “What would Jesus do?” Matthew 10:14: “And whoever does not receive you nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.” This appears to be a different tactic than hammering away day after day with a PA system…
Quiriguá, about four hours northeast of Guatemala City, is worth a visit. The enormous, intricately carved sandstone Incan stela, or ornamental pillars, are incredibly beautiful and as much as 10.5 meters tall. Although the carvings are worn on three sides, they are well worth seeing for the amount of detail and variety. The zoomorphs of turtles are spectacular. (Check out Quiriguá in Wikipedia and learn about the rivalry between King 18 Rabbit and King Cauac Sky.)
A world heritage site, the national park that is home to these sculptures is well maintained and convenient to visit. (Refer to travel information at end of this entry.)
Our early afternoon arrival in Quiriguá was attended by only the local dogs that sniffed us, found no snacks, and went back to lying in the shade. The locals ignored us. All was blessedly peaceful and quiet, a welcome change from the traffic and human noises in Guatemala City.
We found a room at the Hotel y Restaurante Royal, known for hot water in half its rooms and very decent food. It was originally a colonial house and is full of porcelain figurines. Another attraction is the owner’s flock of exotic chickens whose eggs became part of an excellent breakfast. Quite a beauty pageant of chicks, to be sure–blue, black, red, white, gray, fuzzy, smooth, short, tall, and plentiful. One beauty had a topknot that looked ornate enough for Sunday church. A flock of geese caught our attention by begging for scraps.
Rooster Grapevine. Close to the equator, Guatemala has roughly 12 hours of daylight and 12 of night. Soon after sunset, the rooster grapevine comes alive. A passing truck is enough to set off the first one, barely heard miles away. Soon, another rooster picks up the melody and their song builds as it nears the village, passed from rooster to rooster, then back again to the source.
All is quiet and restful, until the next truck passes. The terrain is fairly flat in this area, providing an ideal soundscape for the rooster gossip to travel from farmyard to farmyard. At the hotel, the geese entered the conversation, their voices many but the roosters prevailed.
With this ideal sound stage, have the missionaries decided to compete with the roosters? Monotonous, nearly toneless Christian hymns are blasted into the night, hour after hour after hour. Local gossips said that these public-address systems were a huge improvement over the previous missionary strategy—sermonizing with bullhorns from helicopters. (Again, “What would Jesus do?” I somehow could not imagine Jesus with either a bullhorn or a loud PA system…)
The public broadcast went on and on and on, finally ceasing about 9 PM. From time to time, the drone was broken by the sound of children playing during intermissions.
I was embarrassed to be a Christian.
We heard many times from the local population that the Ronald Reagan Administration paid missionaries to come to Central America to work side by side with the CIA to break down all local government and existing spirituality and to eliminate the shamans who are so central in the loving care of Pachamama, the earth mother. (A good read on this topic is Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel.)
This public broadcast of sermons is common. The ones broadcast from the mission in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan near Panajachel started at dusk and continued until about 11 PM.
We wondered who these missionaries were. We shared a mini bus with a group of six missionaries who made jokes about their parishioners while downing a bottle or two of hard liquor. Four others who sat behind us in the plane when we flew back to the US drank themselves into a stupor while telling jokes in which women, educated professionals, and just about everyone else were put down. They expressed gratitude for the converted local women who became their cooks, housekeepers, and child-care providers.
Bring your iPod! If listening to these broadcasts does not match your idea of local entertainment, this is a good time for an iPod!
Starting from Guatemala City. Our plane from California landed in Guatemala City. As budget travelers, we search for accommodations that have most of the features we enjoy; sometimes there are things that we “have to put up with”. We stayed at the convenient Hotel Colonial where we took a room with a shared bathroom for $17 American. The room was fine, the double bed comfortable.
A big plus was the beautiful ground where breakfast is served in a courtyard with birds. The typical tourist breakfast was tasty: scrambled eggs, “Wonder Bread” toast, and instant coffee with hot milk. Very hospitable staff AND purified water were two more plusses. (In the cities, it is common for toast rather than tortillas to be part of the breakfast.)
Guatemala City to Quiriguá. Lonely Planet’s guide to Guatemala proved a good source on this trip. lonley planet guatemala. You can buy bus tickets the day before, just to be sure of passage.We chose the Litegua line for this trip. It is a good idea to get to the station half an hour early to ensure a seat because Quiriguá is four hours away. If you travel in the middle of the day, the busses are often less crowded. The driver was good, the seats comfortable, and we arrived on time. Recommend it.
For exercise, we opted to walk to the national park through the banana fields. Nearly there, we realized our error: a sign in Spanish warned us to duck and cover in case a plane spraying pesticides was spotted overhead!
At the park, we filled our water-purification bottles from a water spigot. Because we have had excellent luck with these bottles, we did not use an iodine or chlorine table.
We hitched a ride back to the Hotel in a mini-van full of banana workers. They looked at us curiously and, finally, one young man asked, “Why do Americans eat green bananas? Here we eat golden bananas.” Our halting Spanish was not good enough to explain that the green bananas were exposed to a chemical to prevent ripening, then refrigerated while being transported to the USA, and then treated with a different chemical to make them ripen. The men just stared at us and shook their heads.
The naturally ripened bananas in Guatemala are so delicious that the ones we buy in California taste spoiled. I have not eaten many bananas since we returned.
Dysentery and more. We became very, very ill the next day, so sick that our gums turned white and I was unable to retain much food for more than two weeks. Was it the pesticides or was it that the water was so bad our purification bottles could not clean it? Or both? Several stops later, a travel agent in Flores put us in touch with a local doctor who prescribed antibiotics that worked.
Health Gossip. Take the bus to the national park. Forget the exercise; avoid walking through the banana groves. Buy only bottled water and then purify it just to be sure. From then on, we put iodine in any local water and then put it into our water purification bottles.
Avoid touching banana skins. We used napkins or tissues to pick them up and washed them with soap and water before