by Char Easter

lp keisuke. © Cheryle Easter

lp keisuke. © Cheryle Easter

The plane has begun to roll. The flight attendant who is announcing take-off protocol has a whiny voice. What key is that? I’m sitting next to Frank, who introduced himself. I want my cough to go away. We’re taking off. The window seat is treating me to sunlight – a prelude to Guatemala.

It’s Christmas. I found my gate in Chicago and a wine shop with a music-theatre bartender. I told him that people say Guatemala is dirty and dangerous, and he said, “Like I am.”

Nikon FM
Lens, Nikon, scratched up 20mm 1.8

Guatemala is less then three hours away. We’re leaving the US and there’s no turning back no matter what kind of bacteria-laden food lies ahead. I wish I would have brought more food, but was thinking about all the scrutiny you get driving into California. Flying they don’t care. Just don’t bring nail clippers. Someone would have to have some major attitude to hold up a plane with nail clippers. It should be a mandatory script for actors auditioning to be bad guys.

I can see Dallas out the window – and it’s flat. No incline in site. I wonder where the Bush estate is? There’s no place to hide.

They just handed us some paperwork and I had to answer the food question and sign it. I wrote, “No” and I’m now eating my last tangerine. I figured Balance bars didn’t count. A Bill Murray movie is showing. He is dressed in a safari suit at a zoo, scratching his butt, speaking dubbed Spanish. There are no subtitles. I see this as a sign that I’m officially a minority. Later, I figure out that one can change the channel for English. I see this as a sign that I’m officially without a clue.

No puedo comprar

Night 1
I’m descending upon Guatemala City with traveler’s checks, sunscreen and electronic recording devices in hand. And I have my personal pharmacy. Armed with my beta-pepsin stomach bacteria pills, I am going to take on all local food. I cruised through customs. They didn’t bother to check my pack. Not suspicious looking enough, I guess. Must be getting old.

I went outside and chose my taxi, braced to barter. The taxi was small and stinky. Maybe there is a direct line between the tail pipe and the inside of our vehicle. I tried out my Spanish, explaining the plan. Hotel Futura now. Antigua later. Perhaps that was too complex because I realized he was taking me to Antigua now vs. later. With more bad Spanish, I got us to the the hotel – the premeditated rendezvous spot Cheryle and I had settled on from the Guatemala guidebook.

Dear Xiques: So much has happened and I really wish you were here. It’s exotic and more. I’m in a third world sci-fi city. Billboards are more advanced and elaborate than in the US. Probably a regulations issue. The commercialism and fumes are thick. Roads are congested
with cars and the roadsides are strewn with laundry lines, liter, trash fires and people walking – somewhere. pana_char

There was a slight panic when my rendezvous with Cheryle was jumbled. While she was waiting for me in front of the huge hotel complex, I was in the main lobby calling mom and dad and James and Glynn (our friends in Antigua) and trying to decide why on earth my sister would be at large in Guatemala City. I rallied the entire reception staff to help me resolve the dilemma. While I was writing my leave-behind message to Cheryl, she walked into the lobby.
It was our first adventure. No hostages. Char

Cheryle took the Hyatt reception staffs’ photos as a payback for their help (I have a bad habit of bartering with my sister’s talent) and we took off for Antigua with Lorenzo, still standing by, in his very stinky car. The road was dark and winding, but we had faith that our language-challenged directions and Lorenzo’s battered taxi would get us there. In no time we’d arrived at The Cloister “under the arch” where James and Glynn were staying. Disoriented regarding local economics, we paid him $20 for the ride plus a $10 tip. He’d been very patient hanging about for a hysterical, scratchy-voiced American woman who spoke bad Spanish. Besides, it’s custom to get overtime pay on Christmas. Our spending habits, like our budget, would narrow like a funnel as the trip progressed.

The Cloister’s entry floor was strewn with pine needles for the holy week. It smelled divine. A man had us wait in a lobby that was decorated in a blend of influences, mostly Spanish. I ate two packages of seaweed (not claimed on my customs paperwork) and a Balance bar. James and Glynn came in while Cheryle was out scouting a room and I was stuffing the second package of seaweed in my mouth (an awkward procedure best done alone).

They led me through an enchanting open courtyard that was set off by delicate lighting and surrounded by the hotel’s stylish guest rooms. They were elegant but simple, as if a monk with an expense account chose the decor. James and Glynn are seasoned travelers who know it’s better to go first class – something we’d have to learn the hard way. Their living area had a fireplace and a wall that opened to a private arboretum. But my favorite amenity was the scented tissue for my poor nose. Cheryle arrived and we sat around and chatted and ate cake a neighbor had given them.

I was so tired and longed for sleep without coughing. That’s when we first learned of Glynn’s magic pills that cured colds and flu. I took one and that night, for the first night in a week, I barely coughed. We headed to our hotel, which was great – if you compare it to the street and not “their” room.


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