Sunday, January 20, 2013

Day Eighteen - the long return

I awoke promptly at 6:30 from a night of intense dreams. People met in Central America mixed with friends and family back home in a wild adventure. I quickly packed my bags, but couldn't find my camera bag. I looked everywhere, then asked the driver of our van so I could check there. After asking the hotel restaurant workers if they had found a bag, my stomach sunk. I could care less about the bag, but the SD card inside it had the equivalent of 78 rolls of film from the first 16 days of my trip. And it's gone.

I have a small bowl of avena (oatmeal) and two cups of black coffee. The coffee isn't very good, again - I have big expectations in this part of the world and am rarely rewarded with the excellent coffee I know they can produce here. My companions try to help me remember where I last left my bag. It's hopeless, though. I'm pretty sure I left it in our hotel room, but not positive. As we leave town, we swing by the UPC offices to pick up coffee and I make one last desperate search. Rolando assures me that if the bag turns up he'll get it to me, and I trust him fully.

The van ride is fairly uneventful, which is good considering the curvy steep terrain we traversed. Crumpled trucks and roadside shrines littered the side of the roads, confirming the danger. A short detour took us through the city of Huehuetenango and over to Zaculeu, more Mayan ruins. These ruins are unique in that they were "ruined" in the 1940's by the United Fruit Company. With their immense power (backed by the CIA) and money, they decided to "remake" these ruins by plastering over most of the remains to make them "look better". (sorry for the quotes, I'm using them to highlight my sarcasm, in case you didn't catch that). What results is a disappointing cartoon of ancient Mayan culture, with scattered piles of stones and awkwardly stepped structures. I found a highlight in their onsite museum, which featured a replica of a giant clay pot with an adult human skeleton tucked in the fetal position inside. I had just encountered this concept in a book I'm reading, so I found the depiction of this ancient burial technique quite interesting.

A few more hours in the van through the mountains and we arrived at Quattro Caminos, a chaotic road intersection that also serves as a major bus terminal. This is where our friend Zack said goodbye and loaded his bags onto a chicken bus - headed to Quetzaltenango ("Xela" locally) for a few months of language school. I was in the bathroom when he loaded, so I missed out on the hearty hug I wanted to give him - the other "token male" on the trip with Farmer to Farmer this year. Another hour in transit and we dropped another companion, she was headed to Lake Atitlan for the weekend. We had an option for lunch but opted for the snack-luck in the truck, since we still had plenty on hand, and we were eager to get back to Antigua for our last night in Guatemala.

Instead of staying in the $10 hostel I had reserved, I chose to stay with the rest of the group in Posada San Pedro II, even though it was $25 more because I needed a single without Zack. I have become quite close with these ladies and wanted to savor the last hours of our time together. I quickly dropped my bags and went for a walk through Antigua. I love this town. I bought a few souvenirs and fabrics to bring home.

The group walked together across town to a fancy restaurant owned by a French/Belgian couple. It was certainly one of the fancier restaurants I've ever been in, and I delighted in our company and conversation. New friends from As Green as it Gets were with us, and I finally got to meet Franklin, the group's founder and eccentric leader. Conversations flowed from politics to farming, recalling stories and dreaming up new plans. It was a joyous, decadent event. A perfect close to my trip. After dinner we walked to "the Whiskey Den and Coffee Bar", a small room serving coffee and liquor tucked in a courtyard a block off the main square. A swatch of burlap printed with the "Farmer to Farmer" on the wall confirmed we were in the right place. Franklin's partner, Jessica, asked me if I had heard of the book "Truck" by Michael Perry. "Ha! Of course!" I exclaimed. She had just read the part where he refers to Farmer to Farmer coffee. IT just so happens that I was the one who served him the coffee he refers to in the book. She asked me to let him know that his book made it all the way to Guatemala. Hear that, Mike?

After a late night espresso (I had to!) we started another round of goodbyes. I am quite fond of their organization and developed a deep respect for their work here in Guatemala. I'm proud to have made friends with them, and look forward to working with As Green as it Gets to grow our important work together. I couldn't resist wailing out a rooster crow as we left the building, my final goodbye. Despite the coffee, sleep came fast for me. Goodnight and goodbye, Guatemala.

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