Wednesday, May 18, 2005


USA Pride

This indigenous baby is Proud to be an American!

Some of the taxis here in Xela proudly fly the stars and bars...

...and so do some of the regular old SUVs. (Of course they almost always buy Japanese, as 99% of the cars here are Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu or Mitsubishi)

Even the street sweeper is sporting the red, white and blue flag around his neck.

One possible explanation for all this USA love is that there are several hundred thousand Guatemalans living and working in the US (illegally, in most cases) to send money back to their families. Some reports estimate that around 12,000 Guatemalans a year emigrate northward. The country has experienced so much poverty in the last half a decade that these days "the dream" for many Guatemalans is to escape to the greener pastures of the US. Sad but true.


Why are there so many people waiting in line here? (And why are they all wearing the same hats?) It turns out these are all campesinos who were forcefully integrated into Civilian Self-Defense Patrols (PACs, by their initials in Spanish) during the peak of the Guatemalan civil war during the early 1980s. More than 20 years later, and more than 10 years after the end of the war, nearly 10,000 people lined up for days in front of a single bank here in Quetzaltenango. Why? The government is finally doling out the payments they promised to these people decades ago for their forced participation. (We're still not sure about the hats, but for some reason they're very popular among indigenous men in Guatemala.)

At 7:00am the line already stretches all the way around the central plaza in Xela...

...and up and down the streets several blocks away from the central plaza. That's a long line!


One of Guatemala's many pimped-out public buses. Most of these are actually old school buses from the US which were discarded or donated because of stricter emissions control laws in the US (these buses belch huge clouds of black exhaust!). The Guatemalans paint them all kinds of gaudy colors, and each one has its name painted on the back window. The buses are referred to as "chicken buses" by the tourists because you will often see locals bring livestock on to them, especially chickens. Or maybe the name is due to the tendency of the crazy busdrivers to pass slower moving vehicles on dangerous mountain curves. Seriously, these bus drivers are some crazy characters. One of Rob's students is a supervisor at a bus company, and he claims that they have to reprimand a bus driver almost once a month for driving the bus while drunk! (We're so glad we have our car!)

Instead of chickens, this "chicken" bus seems to be full of produce.

Another pimped out Guatemalan bus.

Speaking of buses, we recently saw these "smiling" characters advocating better safety by bus drivers when they pull into bus stops. This photo was taken in front of Xela's version of a mall, complete with movie theatre and food court.


Cows need to play too! Guatemala is a very crowded country, and there is very little unused space. Here in Xela, the outskirts of the city merge seamlessly with the agricultural lands just beyond, and the cows occasionally wander the city streets and parks.

A rather typical house in Guatemala. Despite the appearance of being "half-finished" - with the second floor only partially completed, the outer wall of cinderblocks unpainted, and rebar sticking out of the top in various places - this house is likely to look this way for a long time to come. Guatemalans have a tendency to "accommodate for future expansion", and it is very common for houses to have rebar sticking out of the top so that it is easy to add another floor on top of the house at a future date, if the financial resources become available to the owner. Needless to say, aesthetics are not a priority.

The life of the common house-dog in Central America: on the roof. (note the rebar sticking out of this roof as well) Roof-dogs are on almost every block in Xela, always barking at Kina from their perch when we pass by. This roof-dog actually lived with us for awhile at Yoga House; his name is Toby.

One of the seriously not-so-nice aspects of Central America is the ever-present homeless street dogs. Every night they tear into the garbage bags outside the market near our house, leaving a terrible mess. Every morning, the garbage collectors come and shovel up the garbage into the truck.

Aguardiente - also known in English as "Firewater". Strong and dirt-cheap, it is basically an unrefined version of rum (made from sugar cane). Needless to say, the flavor is rather nasty, and the hangover is reportedly ferocious. It is the favorite drink of Guatemala's down-and-out street-dwellers and bums.

The typical morning after a night of drinking the Aguardiente. This photo was taken about 9am on a Saturday morning, outside of one of Xela's sketchier bars. Nevertheless, hardly a day goes by when you DON'T see some poor alcoholic slob sleeping on the sidewalk in the middle of the day.