Monday, March 20 2006
setting: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Today was the first day of my second (and final) week. As usual at Celas Maya, I was given a new teacher. Per my request I was given Alma, Gretchen's teacher from last week, and Gretchen got a new teacher, one she found muy simpatica just because she expressed doubts about her desire to have children, a massive cognitive leap for someone in this overpopulated Catholic country. Alma forced me to talk a lot more than Luis had, and that was certainly good for development of necessary neural circuit. But she also had me read a lot from the book, and I found that when I was reading out loud I had much lower comprehension than I'd have when I'd read quietly by myself. Evidently my brain hasn't broken the pronouncing Spanish circuits free from the comprehending cicuits and there was no way I could do both at the same time.
Our fellow-student Colleen had just recovered from a terrible stomach flu that's been going around, and today she wanted to visit the Fuentes Georginas above the nearby village of Zunil. The Fuentes are a natural hot spring benefitting from the abundant subterranean volcanic heat in the area. Gretchen and I also wanted to bathe in the Fuentes, so we traveled together. This involved catching a chicken bus not far from the school in Xela, riding it up over the divide to the south and then down that picturesque farming valley to Zunil. Zunil lay across a bridge over a river that suffered from a typical array of Guatemalan insults: massive amounts of visible junk, intensive agriculture, and certainly many horrible things that could not be seen.
We were joined on our way by a tiny Indian girl who walked happily beside us, enjoying the novelty of three giant gringos. Soon we were in Zunil's big indoor market where many dozens of merchants sold all sorts of things and dogs wandered about freely, concentrated in the part of the market devoted to the sale of meat. I was by far the tallest person in the room, which was the size of an aircraft hangar.
We caught a ride to the Fuentes on the back of a pickup truck, the usual way gringos cover the couple miles of mountainous road from Zunil. The truck had iron rails ringing it about four feet over the bed, allowing us to stand securely as the driver drove. We passed through beautiful alpine farm country, rolling hillsides speckled with radishes and cabbages. As we climbed, the climate became progressively cooler and more humid.
The clouds hung lower and lower and it even threatened to rain for a moment. But then to the northwest the clouds momentarily broke open, flooding us with sun and the most awesome sight I'd ever seen on Planet Earth outside of dreams. There it was, the mighty cone of Volcán Santa Maria, reaching a good 50 degrees above the horizon and taking up most of the sky. I had no idea how massive it was until I glimpsed it in that moment, but then (before I could have taken the picture that would have never done it justice) it had vanished again behind the clouds. I'd actually brought my camera but, human memory being what it is, I had forgotten the memory card.
Around the Fuentes themselves the farms ceased and were replaced by rich forests, ones that had seen considerably more water than any else we'd seen. They were tangles of vines, ferns, bushes, and tall scrawny trees, nothing having had the opportunity to grow old in a country that burns any scrap of wood it can find.
The Fuentes themselves were set amidst a sprawling (yet tasteful) cluster of buildings at the headwaters of a small creek. For a few quetzales you have admission for as long as you want to stay. The guy who had driven us up in the truck figured he'd just wait for us in the parking lot, since it was unlikely he'd get any other gigs during the time we were there (as it happened, he got to drive down with four more paying passengers than he'd arrived with).
Those Fuentes were even better than Iceland's famed Blue Lagoon. They had a number of advantages: the lack of crowding, the beautiful garden setting, the cool but not miserable air temperatures, the general absence of repulsive sulfur fumes, and the lack of urgency. The one problem was the music the adjacent bar insisted on blaring out over the pools. It was all cheesy versions of familiar music, the sort of soundtrack one expects in a K-mart, not at a wonder of nature. There it was, "Hotel California," though not the masterpiece as performed by the Eagles, but a version reworked so as to sooth cattle being frog marched into a slaughter house.
Surrounded as I was by all these short Guatemalans, I'd been feeling like the big man of the country. If any Guatemalan were to give me any trouble in some dark Xela alley I could just bitch slap him into the next Zona. But then on the ride back down the mountain there were these two Dutch giantesses riding along with us in the back of the truck. Had they been stacked on top of each other they would have reached twelve feet into the sky. I don't know what it is about the Dutch safety net, school lunch programs, and their lax marijuana policy, but the tallest people in the world are all Dutch, and standing next to them gives me a sense of what it is like to have the stature of a Guatemalan. That extra height is like pre-selection-evolution for a calamity that we all know is coming. When global warming sends the Atlantic over those dikes and the Dutch find themselves standing in five and half feet of water, many of them are sure to survive.
Back in Zunil, Gretchen and Colleen made a number of purchases at a women's collective (even though they didn't stock any of the earth-toned fabrics they would have preferred; we'd come to the wrong country for that). Then we toured the beautiful white town church, which was (as usual for Guatemala) full of gruesome sculptural depictions of a suffering Jesus. It must be relatively easy to torture prisoners and discount suffering in a country so accustomed to such depictions.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next