Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



I am nearing the end of my travels in Central America but in the mean time I still have to tell you about my time in Guatemala, before heading onto Belize and Mexico.

Although my previous mails have been quite short unfortunately this one got rather long, you have been warned.

Guatemala suffered horrendously during its civil war. But those who suffered most were the Mayans, accounting for the majority of those murdered, they were also forced to move from traditional lands and give up traditional beliefs. All this during what was supposedly a political war against a non-political entity. What makes it even more disturbing is that the government and its associates committed the majority of this genocide. The remarkable thing is that there are no apparent physical reminders around although the psychological scars must be quite deep. It is something that was never even brought up in conversation despite the fact that the war ended only six years ago. Perhaps it is still to fresh in peoples minds, after all many of those who orchestrated the atrocities are now in powerful positions within the government and corruption and other problems are rife.

A theme of being in Guatemala has been the constant changing of buses to reach any destination. On my first day in the country it required seven buses and a boat to get to Monterrico where I was going. The reason for going to Monterrico was to try and see the elusive nesting turtles I had attempted to see elsewhere as this is supposed to be a favourite site for both Olive Ridleys and the enormous Leatherbacks, depending on the time of year. My lack of luck prevailed and the only grown turtles I was to see were in the nature reserve.

There was another reason for being there and that was to participate in what the reserve does to raise its profile and finances. This is a race held every Saturday in season when just hatched turtles are purchased and then everyone lines them up for a race into the surf, the owner of the first to cross a line in the sand being the winner. It is quite a bizarre thing to do, but was all good fun and it was interesting to see such a tiny turtle at such close range and feel the power in its little flippers as it struggled for freedom. My turtle came about fourth out of about fifty, which was pretty good considering. A couple of the stragglers had to be helped into the surf and when a wave came several of them were dumped back on the beach, probably even more traumatised than they had previously been. They were then assisted back into the surf again hopefully to mature into big strong turtles. Apparently turtles hatched in Monterrico and tagged have been found in the Galapagos, which is a bloody long way, must be good swimmers then.

En route to my next stop one of the bus drivers decided took a dislike to us so after ten minutes kicked, an English couple and a German couple I was with and myself, off the bus for no apparent reason. We were told to wait at the roadside for the next one, which would be along imminently. A couple of minutes later a police car pulled up to find out what we were doing there. I told him the story and he asked me if we were Americans. I explained that three of us were English and two were German. He repeated the question a couple more times and I gave him the same reply. Once he was convinced he said so "none of you is an American dog then". Obviously not the biggest fan of his northern neighbours. He then gave us a lift back to Taxisco where we had previously got on the abortive bus journey after having explained that this was bandit country and not a good spot to be standing by the side of the road. It makes one wonder what he would have done if we had been Americans and whether that was why we got kicked off the bus in the first place.

This next stop was Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, near to which are some important and interesting Pre-Mayan sites. The people in the town rarely see tourists which made them much more helpful and friendly. When I was looking for the museum I was "assisted" by many people, may of whom had absolutely no idea where it was. At one point as I was passing the Military Zone I asked a guy who was just out for a jog if he knew where it was, the only museum he knew of though was in a town some way away. I told him that there definitely was one nearby so he went to enquire with some soldiers, he came back with another guy who was also in civilian dress and was speaking good English and told me they did know of one nearby and asked where I was from. I told him from England and he was delighted as he told me he had spent some time at the Royal Staff Training College in London a couple of years ago. When I told him that I was from London he was even more impressed. He called over a young soldier whom he said would my guide finding the museum. I asked him what he did and what rank he was. He told me he was the Commandant of the military zone here and he was a Colonel, his colleague was a major and he was very happy to be of help, gave me a firm handshake and received a very crisp salute from the private he had called over to be a guide, before he headed off for his morning jog. The private marched formally, with his eyes front and chin up for the first few hundred metres, but when we were out of sight of the military post relaxed and became quite talkative. When we reached the museum and found it closed he went to find the curator at his home who he then escorted back to open up the museum. I thanked him for his help and greatly appreciated the benefits of a military escort, something less likely to happen in a town that has many tourists.

The curator was very informative and explained all the pieces and discussed the relevant theories about much of the stuff. Some of the items had extremely impressive, intricate carvings with depictions of anamorphic people, sorcerers, kings, ball players, animals etc. Other things were thought to be domestic implements or stands for idols and the like. A number of pieces of pre-Columbian ceramics had also been found, some of which were quite attractive. I asked the curator if he had many tourists coming through. He said that once a week or so the cruise ships that docked in Puerto Quetzal would bring along a busload of either American, German or French tourists who would have half an hour to quickly look around before leaving. When he checked his register he found that it was nearly a year since the last independent traveller went to the museum. Considering that the museum is one of the main reasons to go to Santa Lucia, so one would resume most foreign visitors would go to it, it would explain why the locals were so interested to see a foreigner.

From there I went to a nearby site where several large petroglyphs (carved stones) were. These stones are in the middle of a sugar cane field and despite looking around for a while and following directions I had to find them I was clueless as to where they were. One of the pieces is supposedly eighty tonnes in weight, which I thought should be easy enough to spot, but no. When a family who were scavenging from waste piles came along I asked them if hey knew where the petroglyphs were. They had a vague idea and over the next forty-five minutes the ma went off with his machete hacking through the can before he finally found the first piece, by which time a couple more locals had assisted him. The petroglyph was about forty metres from the path through the thickly growing sugar cane, in a clearing that had just been made by my newfound friends. The carving on the stone showed a sorcerer, who was assisting a ball player, who was in turn supplicating himself before a king, a very impressive piece of two thousand year old art. The original guy left at this stage and one of the new guys told me he knew where another petroglyph was. This one was much easier to find as it was just next to the path, it had different anamorphic characters on it and was not as large as the previous one. As I was heading back to Santa Lucia I passed a stationers so decided to get some paper and wax crayons to do some rubbings of the various petroglyphs in order to more accurately show what they looked like than a photo and also because it became easier to see what exactly was there. The next day I went to another site that is actually in the middle of a factory, the pieces there were also impressive but the way in which they had been organised did not do them justice. The last couple of petroglyphs were to be found atop a small hill in the middle of another cane field. The people in the area make offerings to this deity in a hybrid of Catholicism and Mayan worship. Before taking rubbings of this piece I asked the locals, who were taking a break from working just next to it, if it was okay who said it was fine and found it very interesting to watch the image slowly appear on the paper. The taxi driver who had taken me warned me that the locals would probably cut my head off, as they were not good people around here. What actually happened was that I was invited to join them for beer and drinks but unfortunately didn't have the time. The guy had just made up this bullshit to try and get more money for going this way. Next to this petroglyph is a half buried big stone head with its eyes and nose just above the ground, which was interesting to see. From Santa Lucia I then went to La Democracia where there are a number of massive Olmec statues carved into big round rocks the figures look like slightly depressed Weebles, or Buddhas, arranged around the main square.

Then from there I went to Antigua, which was a former seat of Guatemalan government. The town is very colonial in style, with cobblestone streets and interesting facades on the buildings. There are several ruined churches around and some impressive intact ones. This is a major tourist hub and is a very popular place for people to learn Spanish. Although my Spanish is still in great need of refinement I did not have the time or inclination to stop and learn more there. I decided that apart from having a look around town, which didn't take too long that I wanted to climb the nearby Pacaya Volcano, as I was led to believe I would almost definitely see lava. After an abortive attempt to climb it one night, due to the bus arriving an hour and a half late, I did make it up the following night. The terrain near the top looked quite Martian and steam was seeping out of fissures all over the place. There was no bloody lava to see though and apparently there often isn't, due to the constantly gushing sulphurous steam that obscures ones view. I've decided that all the people who arrange volcano tours are lying bastards as the last few I have visited I have expected to see lava and have been very disappointed.

Whilst I was in Antigua I had my jacket stolen whilst it was on a hook when I was playing pool, which was annoying as I was entering cooler climes. The process involved in getting the police to investigate and then do a report was quite amusing and not too difficult, although it was quite slow. The guy who finally typed up the report on his old typewriter in octuplicet (eight copies, which means that including carbons he was typing on fifteen sheets at a time) was quite amusing and after we were done with the report asked me where he could get a padlock like the ones I have on my day-bag as the padlock he has on his locker (which he pointed to in the corner of the office) was not half as nice and he could do with a nice lock like mine as there were too many thieves around. Considering that his office is within the police station I found it quite amusing and told him that if I come back to Antigua I will bring him one from England but in the meantime I need the ones I have myself.

My next stop was to visit Lake Atitlan, an attractive crater lake at fifteen hundred metres above sea level. With volcanoes around it climbing to in excess of three and a half thousand metres. The shape of the crater can still be clearly seen in parts despite the fact that the lake is forty kilometres across at its widest point. One of the reasons I went there was to do some diving in the lake, but the dive centre was never open. If they couldn’t be bothered to turn up I couldn’t be bothered to dive with them.

In this area the indigenous men and women wear their traditional clothing. Although the women around Guatemala can often be seen wearing their traditional apparel it is less frequent that one sees the men wearing theirs as it is cheaper and more practical to use modern clothing. The different villages and areas all have different styles of materials used in their dress and the embroidery.

In Panajachel on the lake side I spotted John, one of the yanks that made me watch the baseball, when I was in Honduras. The following day we went to Chichistenango where there is a big market on Sundays. The products on sale were generally very colourful and some were quite bizarre. One that springs to mind as being particularly odd were the carvings of giraffes considering that they are an animal that does not exist in the Americas except in zoos. This makes it difficult to understand why there are Mayan style carvings of them. My theory is that someone got a cheap batch from Africa and decided to repaint them and tell people they were Llamas with long necks. Some of the materials and clothing on offer were quite interesting but not really the sort of thing I wear. One interesting shop was down a little side street out of town, the proprietor is obviously a collector considering the range of articles on display. Some of which he insists are ancient Mayan artefacts whereas others he says are recent copies. Amongst this stuff are intricately carved jade, ancient axe-heads and obsidian blades. Some of which I am sure were authentic, the problem being it would take someone more expert than myself to distinguish which were which.

After wandering around the market for some time we headed to the top of a hill where Pascual Abaj lives. He is a Mayan deity that the locals give offerings to and burn incense for. The rock carved with his face is not too easy to recognise unless you were informed. In the churches in Chichistenango the local Mayans make offerings that are both catholic and pagan at the same time. As we headed back to Panajachel the views across the lake were very lovely as the sun set behind the volcanoes.

Also on the lake I visited the villages of San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan. The former was not particularly interesting except for the views across the lake from a different perspective. In Santiago Atitlan, I visited the shrine of Maximon a Mayan god that is asked for protection and assistance in just about anything needed. As the Mayans have assimilated much of their old beliefs with Christianity there is a Jesus figure in a glass sarcophagus in the same room as Maximon. Maximon himself is a wooden figure that wears a hat, a lot of scarves and enjoys a drink and a smoke. A form of offering is to give him a cigarette or cigar to smoke, which he does happily with an assistant who will occasionally tip his ash into an ashtray. He can also be given spirits to drink, which he urinates out immediately. There is pungent incense smoking around him constantly and fairy lights blinking. All this whilst Christmas carols are played in the background. It makes for a quite interesting viewing experience.

As I was getting a boat across the lake from Santiago Atitlan I was sat next to Maxe who was proud to tell me he was seventy-four years old and in good health. By his attire I could tell he was from Solola, just a few kilometres from Panajachel, which he confirmed. When I asked him why he had been to Santiago, he told me it was because he had to ask Maximon for some assistance. As usual he had asked for protection for himself but his main reason for going was to help his brother who apparently was suffering from impotence recently. He told me that he had asked Maximon to give his brother something long and hard to satisfy his wife with. Not convinced that it wasn’t for Maxe himself I asked him if it was really he that had the problems. He assured me it wasn’t and when later in our conversation he mentioned he had a small family, only fourteen children (three of whom have died) I chose to believe him. At points in the conversation he would make references to God and Jesus just like any good Christian might, for the Mayan there is no conflict in worshipping their pantheon and the Christian saints, Jesus and God. Often they are assimilated and Maximon is sometimes called either San Simon or Judas. It all gets quite confusing.

My next stop from Atitlan was Quetzaltenango, also know as Xela (pronounced Shay’lah). The only interesting things there, was the Parque Central and Museum. The Parque Central is surrounded by attractive colonial architecture including an attractive Cathedral. The museum is a strange place with some peculiar exhibits. These range from Mayan artefacts through to modern office equipment. There is a section dedicated to sports trophies and another with stuffed animals, some of which are quite deformed and most of which seemed to have been stuffed by a blind taxidermist. One of the most peculiar exhibits was a photocopier from the 1960’s. Why this should be in the museum is an enigma, particularly when in a number of places I have seen printing presses from the 1920’s still in commercial use, which are more museum pieces than the piece in the museum.

Xela was essentially a stopping point on my way to Retalhuleu, also known as Reu (pronounced Ray’Oo). On my arrival I visited the museum that had a limited range of pre-Columbian artefacts nicely displayed. After I left the museum I saw a funeral procession that was not particularly interesting in itself, except that it was led by a rickshaw with funereal music being played. He rickshaw was normally used to advertise a local pharmacist as one could tell from the signs it was covered with. Several links could be made between the pharmacist and the funeral, none of which are probably true. Who knows though maybe it was the pharmacist who died, or one of his favourite customers, perhaps the pharmacist gave the wrong medication that killed him or maybe it is just to remind the bereaved that if they need some anti-depressants they know where to go.

The hotel where I was staying was quite basic but I had a private bathroom, which was something. The only problem was that the toilet cistern did not stop filling as the ball cock was broken. What this meant was when I wanted to use the water I had to turn on the stopcock outside my room and turn it off again when I was done. When I woke at about two-thirty in the morning to go to the toilet, I found the water flowing as soon as I put the bathroom light on, without me doing anything. When I had finished my ablutions I went into the corridor to turn off the stopcock I saw the manager stood there in the dark with a torch waiting to turn it off himself. I still wonder whether he was stood outside all night waiting for when I might use the facilities in order that he could turn the water on and off as was required.

The reason for my visiting Reu was to see the Mayan site of Abaj Tekalik (the second word sounds like Take-a-leak) which is a complex dating back to the pre-classic period 1000 BCE – 300 CE. Some interesting stele, structures, thrones, artefacts and statues have been found and there are still archaeologists busy excavating and restoring. It is thought that this was a particularly important city-state in its time, dominating much of the area. Just a short way up the road is the San Isidro farm where the owners have also discovered a number of ancient artefacts, which are arranged around the front entranceway to the house. It is a bit strange to see pre-Columbian artefacts being used as garden ornaments. In Guatemala it would seem that these historical treasures can remain private property, it is just that they cannot leave the country legally. In many first world countries they would be taken as state treasures and put in a museum or the land where they were discovered requisitioned by the government. I can see the pros and cons of both approaches, but I think I prefer the system that exists in places like Europe as at least then the artefacts are properly cared for and catalogued. The problem being that in somewhere like Guatemala if the locals cannot keep what they find they would most likely sell it on the black market as donate it to a museum.

After seeing the historical sights of Reu, I decided to see the cultural sights of Momostenango. Momostenango is an important Mayan centre where many priests go to be educated in the traditional ways. When I got there though the place was very quiet and there was little to see so I headed off to Todos Santos. Todos Santos has interesting market days when all the people from the surrounding area converge to sell their wares. The men in the area wear red trousers with fine white lines and white shirts with fine coloured vertical lines with colourful and ornately embroidered collars and cuffs. The women wear black skirts with dark blue lines and colourful blouses. As a result the market is a very colourful, picturesque place and it was interesting to hear the women selling some of their products to a co-operative and how much money they expected for a considerable amount of work. One woman who had spent eight days making a shoulder bag wanted one hundred and ten Quetzals for it (less than ten pounds or fifteen dollars). An amount she was not going to receive, gauging by the way the negotiations were going. The Todos Santeros are a Mam speaking people, which has a quite special tone to it, like some of the native North American languages. As it was very cold in Todos Santos and there not being much to do if it isn’t market day I didn’t spend long there but headed back to Antigua to take it easy for a day before heading over to Livingston on the Caribbean coast for Garifuna day.

The Garifuna are the descendants of former slaves that tried to rebel against there British masters and so were taken to the island of Roatan (now in Honduras) and dumped there as a punishment. These people then populated much of the Caribbean coast of Central America, speaking a peculiar language that has two words for most things, one used only by women and another used by men. In my opinion this is the second strangest language I have yet come across coming second only to the Kuna language of the San Blas islands in Panama where the case changes depending on whether the speaker is standing, sitting or lying down. I made a particular effort to get to Livingston for Garifuna day, because not only was this a well known annual celebration, but also the two hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Garifuna in Guatemala so promised to be good for a party. On the evening of my arrival there was music being played loudly from all the bars and restaurants, but I doubt this is anything unusual. After a while we (myself and the folk I had met en route) stumbled across some live performances of Punta music in the local sports hall. The music is very primal mostly consisting of rhythm and limited melody, with occasional singing. The dancing is equally primal with the women shaking their arses and being generally suggestive, whilst the men merely vibrate a bit in front of them. The whole thing is very obviously African in origin, with no real Latin influence. Later that evening we found another party going on at the cultural centre on the hill, where the music seemed more impromptu and a little more rhythmic as it had women singing along, it is a particularly percussion led music though.

Next day the festivities were in the streets with sports events taking place and locals forming bands and wandering about playing their music and picking up white women. In Ubafu, a bar that we had been in a bit the previous evening there was a large band playing live music and from time to time one of the bands that was wandering the streets would wander in and they would play together for a few minutes until it reached crescendo and then part again. As evening approached and the festivities promised to escalate the weather turned against us, with torrential tropical downpours much of the atmosphere and partying was washed away. There were a couple of isolated pockets of partying going on, but it was mostly the tourists that kept going as most of the locals appeared to have given up and gone home. At one point to try and get the partying back on track several of us were going to buy a Barnie the dinosaur piñata (paper mache figure meant to be broken by children at parties) and take it to the cultural centre and lynch it en masse, but it was too expensive.

Done with the Garifuna thing I got a boat along the Rio Dulce, which was interesting and attractive despite the still overcast weather, to the town of the same name where I got a bus to the northern city of Flores. En route the bus had a big blow out (just five minutes after Frank, an Irish bloke who had been my travelling companion for the past few days, had disembarked. The luck of the Irish). After a couple of hours watching the driver and his ayudante (assistant) wrestling with the torn tyre another bus took us all on to Flores only a couple of hours late.

The reason most people come to Flores is as a base from which to visit the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. I tried to visit some other sites as well but the prices were prohibitively expensive as they are not so popular and have poor transport connections. So after attempting to find a way of getting to some of these places for an affordable price I gave up and decided I could settle with just going to Tikal. I was thinking of spending the night in Tikal hiding away in a temple where I could sleep overnight without discovery so that I would be able to see the sunset and beat all the tourists arriving. I aborted this plan as the weather recently has been pretty awful and there have been rapes and murders taking place within the park, which don't sound very nice. So, I got up ridiculously early to catch the first bus at five in the morning to the site. Arriving at seven a little after sunrise there was still some morning mist hanging in the air. The Star Wars fans amongst you would recognise Tikal as it was in the film as the rebel base from where the rebel fighters fly off to blow up the Deathstar. The most dangerous thing I saw there though was the spider monkeys which being quite territorial throw sticks and fruit at anyone they don't want in their area. This is only really in the outlying areas of the park and I found it quite amusing as they were not very good shots but were funny to watch as they got all excited.

The site is mostly dated to the Mayan classic period although some of it is pre-classic. There are six major temples some of which are over forty metres tall and where numerous interesting artefacts were discovered including jade masks, ceramics, jewellery and carved human bones amongst other interesting stuff. Many of these are on show in the on-site museum. There are also numerous steles around the site some of which have some excellent carvings. Although what is now on show is a mix of time periods many bits have a similar style and there are often large faces to be found staring out of temple walls and other structures if you have the patience to look. Some of the steles had god carvings on and I couldn't help myself take a rubbing of one of them. Whilst I was doing so a German guy came over to watch and take photos of me at work and asked me what I was up to, then a Spanish speaking tour group came past and their guide explained what I was up to and explained points of interest on the petroglyph in reference to where they were on the paper on which I was doing the rubbing and several more people took photos. Then the spider monkeys turned up ad obviously didn't approve so started throwing things at me, where there is art there is always a critic.

The Temple of the Inscriptions at Tikal is one of the forgotten wonders of the world as it has the mo Mayan hieroglyphics than anywhere else, carved into the sides of the roof. There was not as much interesting carving as at some of the other Mayan sites I have visited although the scale of the various structures is very impressive. The museum has a limited display, but does have a couple of great stele one of which has some very clear hieroglyphics which I took some rubbings of whilst the guard wasn't looking. I found an interesting site with lots of photos of Tikal at http://mayaruins.com/tikal.html for anyone who is interested.

One of the interesting aspects of the Maya is the names of the names of their rulers. These include Eighteen Rabbit, Great Jaguar Paw, Zero Bird, Stormy Sky, Animal Skull, Dark Sun and Nose Curl. It does beg the question as to what inspired these names in some cases and it is no wonder then that the names across Guatemala are often quite peculiar give the way things started out.

The names if places in Guatemala are quite interesting and generally have much more variety than in other Latin American countries that have the same sort of Spanish names generally. The only problem is that they can be a pain to pronounce or remember, thankfully there is often an abbreviated commonly used alternative as otherwise buses would take a lot longer to find customers as the ayudantes who lean out the doors calling the names would probably suffer some injury if they were to try to repeat the full names at the speeds they do with the abbreviations.

Whilst on the subject of buses I feel that the Central American buses deserve a little mention. The “Chicken Buses” as they are euphemistically known are all retired North American school buses. These are a bizarre design from the outset, being extremely high up (presumably in order to make disabled access more difficult) and with a massive overhang on the back so that those sitting anywhere at the rear of the bus are hurtled skywards if the bus goes over any bump thicker than the average paperclip. The design is in my opinion somewhat eccentric to begin with. When they are resurrected as passenger buses in Central America they have much benches placed so close together that only an amputee can sit in them comfortably. Somehow the locals do manage to at least appear comfortable, perhaps it is just resignation. I have found that as I have to sit with my leg so far apart to be able in them that with a little more practice I would almost certainly be able to do the splits. I have found however that it is usually more comfortable to stand, especially when the buses are getting full as the number of people they squeeze to a row would frighten the average contortionist (the record I have thus far witnessed is eleven, in less space than would normally given to four American school children).

Unlike their Asian counterparts I have not yet actually seen or been attacked by chickens on the buses. I have been accosted by all types of performers and salesperson. When the bus pauses in certain places, what was previously presumed to have been a bus filled to capacity will then take on the sales folk. These people are selling anything from tortillas, tacos, peanuts, doughnuts, ice creams, drinks, toys, medications, nail clippers, colouring books or a thousand other things and somehow fifteen or more of these vultures will move up and down the bus screaming in your ear what it is they are selling in case you didn’t work it out when they rammed it in your face. From time to time I would still be amazed at the crap on sale and even more so at the fact that people bought it. The more entertaining though are the ones who have a much bigger pitch and they can be telling you all about the wonder that are nail clippers for ten minutes as the bus bounces along. My all time favourites though for entertainment are the evangelists and clowns who in my opinion in this case fall in to the same category. The evangelists give really good hellfire and damnation speeches, particularly paying attention to which celebrities are then devils pawns (Michael Jackson, Eminem and Ketchup are a recurring theme). This includes reciting song lyrics that have a hidden satanic meaning (which disturbed me that they would repeat them so blatantly). Pokemon is also allegedly a children’s television program broadcast by the devil, so all be warned. The clowns are similar except with fewer mentions of Satan and his works and with a bit more of a song and dance routine. They are quite amusing as they do their performance at the front of a crowded bus. When watching one who had interrupted me chatting up a local girl sat next to me, she asked me whether I understood all he was saying, I admitted I only understood a little. I asked her whether she understood it all. She said she could only understand a little too as he was speaking too quickly. That made me feel better at least as I had felt my Spanish was improving until that garishly painted scrounger had turned up.

Another seamless segue leads me on to the subject of Bum. Not the fact that ones arse can generally feel rather roughly used by the time one arrives anywhere on a chicken bus or to call the performers and sales folk bums but the sweet bum available all over Guatemala. Being an excellent name for a confectionery item I had to try some and have since become a little addicted to the instantaneous sugar rush from these little sweet sticks that can be bought in banana, grape, berry or fruit flavours. The Guatemaltecos obviously have a bit of a sweet tooth as they have some of the finest pastry shops I have seen. It is quite impressive in a developing country that even in a small town or village one can get hold of some excellent cakes and pastries, it may not be that healthy but it beats the boring maize tortillas every time.

My time in Guatemala is almost at an end now and tomorrow I get up ridiculously early again in order to get a bus to Belize where I hope to do some world class diving.

By now if you actually read through all this I am sure you will pleased to hear I also think I have waffled on for long enough too. Don’t worry the next ones should be short again.



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