WELCOME TO GUATEMALA!
Welcome to (slightly damp) Guatemala again. Not a lot of exciting things have been going on
this time to relate, but there are (hopefully) a few items of interest.
Well, the rainy season, after that false start, has finally arrived. It started on the
16th of May with a hard thunderstorm, followed the next day with another one. Then about
three days off, then another rain. By now we can just about figure on rain every day, or at
night. We are back to carrying our umbrellas everywhere "just in case".
If you remember back in Episode #5, I had a picture of a big hole in the ground where they were
building the basement layers for a new tower. I have been taking periodic update shots, and just
in case you were wondering, HERE'S a progress report.
For those of you who haven't had enough pictures of animals at the zoo, click on
PICTURES to see more. For the rest of you,
I won't bore you.
One exciting thing (at least to me; Deb is more "Ho, hum" about it) that has happened, is
that I discovered that a fruit bat has been visiting our banana flowers outside our patio. I had
noticed a bat overhead one evening, and the next night took a chair out onto the walkway to watch
for more. Soon a motion or sound caught my attention, and there he was, making passes at the
flowers. Sometimes in his passes he would circle around right past my face, only a foot or
Banana flowers are very different: what looks like a giant bud hanging down is actually a
series of bracts that lift one at a time to reveal about 10 long tubular flowers under each.
At least on our bananas, only the first few bunches of flowers produce bananas; the bracts continue
to open with flowers, but no fruit forms. You wind up with a bunch of bananas forming at the
top, a long stalk showing where the bracts and flowers had attached (they fall off), and the
"bud" at the bottom opening one to two bracts per day (actually in the evening just as
the bats are coming). Is this God's way of providing continued sustenance for the bats?
In the plantations, the commercially-grown bananas have a lot more fruit on each stalk.
The flowers will actually have drops of nectar hanging from them, and the
bat I watched would make several passes at the flowers, sometimes landing momentarily, sometimes
only hovering before dropping away. Then in 3 to 5 minutes he would return to make another
series of passes. This went on for about a half hour, and I got the idea of trying to
photograph him. Two nights later I was waiting for him, my 35mm camera with a 70-250 zoom
lens at full zoom, flash ready, mounted on a tripod on top of the patio wall, pointed at the
flower. Sure enough, here he came! I fired off a shot, afraid he might not return,
but he did, again and again. I fired off several shots, some of which were too late, but
some managed to capture him! There is another stalk with a new "bud" starting to open, so
will be watching that as well. For those of you who want to see better, here are a couple of
Speaking of animals, there is a lamp post on the corner just past the church that must have an
interesting interior. An access cover at the base doesn't fit quite tight, and there is a
honeybee hive inside. During the day there is a steady stream of bees exiting and entering
the crack along one side of the plate. Their traffic has discolored the paint along there,
and I wonder how much honey is stored inside. Not going to try to find out. Hope
workmen never have to access it.
I keep intending to tell you about shopping here, but there's always so many other things to
talk about. We do most of our grocery shopping at Paiz (say "pice"), about
a mile walk from the apartment. It is at the other end of 12th Calle in Zone 9.
Owned by the Paiz family (think "money" when you say "Paiz"), it is one of a
whole chain of supermarkets all over the city. They feature a large food section with a lot
of fruit and vegetables, with a section of clothing, toys, school supplies, cosmetics, etc.
Then there are a few really big stores called Hiper Paiz (say "EE-per", think
"hyper") that are a lot like Fred Meyer back home; they have everything, including a bank,
a McDonald's, a music store. If I can't find something at Paiz, I jump on a #40 bus and go out
Calzada Roosevelt to the Hiper Paiz out there. There is also one a couple of kilometers beyond
Colegio Maya, and the new teachers were taken there when we first got here to shop for basic
But the Paiz is a mile away; if I only need a couple of items, there are two stores closer to
home. Three blocks away is Super Verduras ("vegetables" or "produce")
that is a convenience store featuring a lot of fresh fruit and produce, and about a half mile away
is La Torre, one of another smaller chain of grocery stores. Prices are a bit higher, and
the selection is less than Paiz, but for one or two items the closeness is worth it.
Then there is Cemaco, kind of like the home-furnishings section of Fred Meyer. This is
also a chain around the city, and each includes an Ace Hardware for all your hardware, tools,
plumbing, and electrical needs. Then it is in a mall, and the one on Próceres also has a Radio
Shack, a food court, a Kodak one-hour photo store (she knows me by name), and of course, all the
brand-name clothing and shoe stores just like at home.
Two blocks from Cemaco is the Gourmet Center, where we find the Bagel Factory. This
is the only place in the city where we have found decent bagels. A bagel (preferably
blueberry) with cream cheese is Deb's breakfast of choice during the week.
Oh, yeah, one last place: to make Deb's enchilada pie we need enchilada sauce, and the only
place we have found it is Puerta del Sol ("Door to the Sun"), a few more blocks from Cemaco,
carrying a lot of imported stuff not available at Paiz. Also just discovered that they have...
(are you ready for this?...) ROOT BEER! It is "Best Yet" brand, imported from Oklahoma.
Real root beer! Like the whole rest of the world, Guatemalans don't do root beer.
The government here does things in an interesting way; instead of warning you of changes, they
just DO IT, and let you figure it out or protest later. One example was 11th Calle in front
of our apartments. When we moved in it was a two-way street, so marked with "Doble
Via" arrows (say "DOE-blay"). City Hall decided that it really should be one-way, as all the others in
the area are, and some people got confused. One day they just came out, changed all the
arrows to say "Una Via", and stationed police at the corners to stop cross-traffic
drivers from turning the "wrong" way. Boom. No warning, no special signs, no arrows
painted on the pavement. The next day there were no police, so people were turning into
Another example with more drastic effects was a parking issue on 6th and 7th Avenues, the main
south and north avenues through Zones 4 and 9. In front of many businesses, if cars parked
there was no room for pedestrians to get between them and the building, forcing you to walk into
the street to pass. At other places, there was room for pedestrians, but the cars
(especially long pickups) stuck out into the street. City Hall decided to "fix"
the two problems. All one night and into the early morning hours, crews were busy installing
rebar-reinforced concrete posts to block parking in the offending places all up and down the two
avenues. When the owners came to open their stores, they discovered that their customers had
no place to park at all. Now there's PLENTY of room for pedestrians and traffic, but not
customers. Shopkeepers being the enterprising souls they are, and keeping the needs of their
customers uppermost in their minds, at least one rather large vendor "solved" the parking
problem by taking sledgehammers and crowbars to the posts, and hacksaws to the rebar.
That'll show THEM!
If accustomed to this...
Would you notice this?
Prensa Libre Photos
A couple of days later I was intending to catch a bus to class on 7th Ave. at 12th Calle, except
that traffic was backed up. Figuring an accident, I started walking to get past the
problem. I kept walking, and traffic was still stopped. Finally got down to Zone 4
(about a mile), and there was the problem.
Police had the street completely cordoned off on
both sides of the offending store, and a crew was busy reinstalling the rebar and concrete.
A group of protesters was trying to stir up enough enthusiasm to challenge the police, but that
would have been really stupid, as they were prepared for trouble. In the days afterwards,
extra police were on hand to make sure the posts stayed, and they are there to this day.
Guess customers have figured out something, or gone elsewhere.
Note Old Rebar
Speaking of the government doing things differently here, if you wanted to repaint all the curbs,
how would you do it? Well, here in Guatemala, they send out a crew of five guys with buckets of
paint and brushes. Each takes a section of curbing, and over a number of days I saw all the
curbs in Zone 10 turn white, one block at a time. What a way to make a living!
A project that was really more Debby's Adventure than mine was the Louis Girón May concert.
He is a Guatemalan operatic singer that seems to have pretty good credentials, according to bio
sketch in the program. He has sung in many operas around the world, and currently teaches
here in the City. This concert was at the National Theater, free by invitation, sponsored
by the Paiz Family Foundation (remember "money"?), in honor of 25 years of his career. It had the Guatemalan National
Symphony Orchestra guest-conducted by a friend from Costa Rica, a choir of various volunteers
(that's where Deb came in), and featured Louis (a baritone) and three other soloists, two women
from Mexico (a soprano and a mezzo-soprano), and a tenor from Venezuela, all friends of Louis, and
all very good.
Deb got involved through Eber Morales, our music director at Union Church and also the rehearsal
conductor for the choir, and Juliana, a woman in the choir at church who has sung under Louis
before. Actually, we both could have sung, but when I found out it was all operatic songs
in various languages and was supposed to be memorized, I said, "No, thank you".
Too much work for me, along with my Spanish. Turns out that they used music after all, so I
could have done it, but instead I had a good seat and enjoyed the concert along with Peggy, a
single teacher at Maya.
Deb had expected a higher level of musicianship from the other members of the choir, given the
nature of the concert, but said that her high school choir was better than some of them, many or
most of whom do not read music. Fortunately the choir wasn't featured, only background for
the soloists, so it was O. K. And the Orchestra only got all of their music two days before
the concert, so that was a concern, but they did quite well, actually. I was pleasantly
surprised at how well they did, given so little practice. That's the difference between
professional musicians and amateurs.
Deb had asked for a bunch of tickets, and was able to give out a bunch to teachers and music
students at Maya. The music is mostly well-known music from the opera world (including two
songs from Carmen and one from The Barber of Seville), sung by some very good soloists,
and was a very enjoyable concert. And free is a very good price.
And a couple more Web specials: a fairly common flower around here is the hibiscus, known here
as rosa de Jamaica, "Jamaican rose". You can buy the dried flowers, from which you make
tea, which is very popular. You can also buy concentrated pulp, which you mix with sugar for juice,
and we each drink a cup of that in the mornings. Very tasty! In some restaruants you can also
order rosa de Jamaica liquados, a fruit drink made with either milk or water, although Deb's
favorite is sandia, watermellon.
And I do like flowers, of which there are a multitude not seen in the States. One I find
interesting is what I call the "bottle-brush tree" because the flowers look like my bottle
brush back home. No idea what it is actually called.
And speaking of fruit, here are some common sights. The wagon on the left (note the delux wheels)
can be pulled by him from place to place, although he may set up in a good spot and stay there.
The other vendor has a fixed location, but both offer fresh fruit and bags of sliced fruit to
passers-by. If you watch him peel it and slice it, O. K., but otherwise avoid the bags. I
have also seen rougher carts of fruit with large iron-rimmed wheels being pulled down the street,
even through heavy traffic, and yes, the man is his own "pony". Pineapples,
oranges, grapefruit, mangos, papayas, and coconuts are the common fruits for sale here right now.
Oh, a piece of great news is that another (single) teacher just moved into one of our
apartments (tired of paying higher rent where he was), and HE HAS A CAR. Deb can ride to school
with him instead of taking the shuttle, which means she can get up almost an hour later than before.
She is thrilled.
But school is drawing to a close for this year; that means that we have been here for 10 months
already. A "Thank You" dinner from the PTA, and an End-of-school/Farewell party
for staff and teachers poolside at a teacher's place. Final concerts, graduations to play
for. Other teachers count days; Deb has been counting concerts. Losing some teachers,
getting some new ones this summer.
But the end of school means Summer Vacation, and it is official: we are going to Versailles,
15 minutes from Paris!
Deb has arranged a "house swap" with a family there, who are going to our
house in Oregon while we stay in theirs. We will also be visiting Fabian, a former exchange
student in Germany; Séverine in Marseille (on the Mediterranean), a job intern when she
stayed with us; and Nacho in Spain. Don't think we will make it to see Wojtek ("VOY-tek")
in Poland; just too far away. Another trip. For a larger map of France, click
Then after Europe we come home to Oregon for a couple of weeks, to work on the house, finishing
some stuff we didn't get done before we left, filing our taxes, visiting Cornell, the zoo, church,
etc. It will be a short, busy time before we head back here to get ready for school again.
I will then finish Curso Tres at IGA, and after a month in France (and all my French
resurfacing from 35 years ago) I am going to NEED the review before I start Curso Cuatro
the 22nd of August.
Are you ready for the Eiffel Tower? Stay tuned for next time, when Ron's Guatemala Adventures
takes you to Paris, at no extra charge!
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