After a happily uneventful bus trip, I´ve arrived in Antigua.
Antigua, about an hour out of Guatemala City, is the Guatemalan equivalent of Bangkok´s Khao San Road–which is to say, it’s paved in tourists, loud dance music, and people selling completely random stuff at overinflated prices. I think the gringos must outnumber the local people.
And what, you might ask, is a traveling tigress doing in a place like this?
Looking for textiles, of course!
I had been hoping to acquire textiles from more regions of Guatemala–Xela (Quetzaltenango) has fine weaving, but naturally reflects the work of the surrounding highlands. In particular, I had wanted a sample of some beautiful tapestry huipils which I hadn’t been able to find in Xela, and the guidebook had mentioned two well-known weaving shops in Antigua, and it was right next to Guatemala City, SO…
…here I am in Antigua.
I’m being grievously overcharged for a complete rathole tonight, the sort of place where the only question is whether you use your spare lock to supplement their padlock on the rusty hasp at the door, or use it to chain your packs to the bed. (I put it on the door: anyone motivated enough to break into your room will cut open your packs, and I want to protect my stuff from the hotel staff.) About the bed there’s not much question: you pull out the handy silk sleep-sheet you’ve been carting around for just such an occasion, because your body and those sheets are not going to meet.
However, it does fulfill my basic needs, i.e. it has a bed, a private bath, nominally hot (more like lukewarm) water, AND is the closest hotel to the bus station, from which I plan to depart for Guatemala City tomorrow. I can live with anything for one night, and I was not going to drag that second bag one meter further.
Second bag, you ask? Well, yes. I’ve been buying up piles of textiles, and was going to do the natural thing and mail them home, but then I remembered how subject to theft, corruption, etc. Guatemala generally is, and asked about the post office. Sure enough, the Guatemalan postal service is just as unreliable as most other services. Since I’m carting around about $400 worth of textiles (which is a small fortune here), I´m NOT going to risk them in the mail. Instead, I’ll put them in luggage storage with the airport hotel when I leave for Belize.
Meanwhile, the travelingtigress is lugging around a second bag in her teeth. (And may I say, it’s damn heavy. How my somewhat-more-feline relatives manage to drag around deer and such in their teeth is completely beyond me.)
Anyway, this hotel is one of the worst I’ve encountered in my travels–only the concrete cinderblock oven in Vietnam and the overflowing toilet in Laos were worse–but what the hell, even if the shower is made of some kind of crumbling concrete and the toilet and sink have seen many better days, and I keep looking around for roaches, I can live with it for one night, and I won’t have to drag my bags over half the city. I’ve never understood why people make such a fuss over nice hotels anyway–you wind up paying enormous sums for a room you’re only going to spend two waking hours in, so who cares?
That being said, this place is still a rathole.
Anyway, I’m here, tourists and all, and find myself rather taken aback after my time in Xela. It seems odd to see so many gringos and gringas all at once. It’s like stepping out the door one day for your usual walk through the city, and suddenly finding yourself surrounded by tourists snapping photos. I find myself fiercely resenting them, and wanting them all to go away so I can have some peace and quiet. (Which is all the more ironic, since a few days ago I couldn’t wait to get away from Xela.)
I have mixed feelings about having come to Antigua. I wish I’d had a few more days in Xela, to talk to Carlos (my guide) and have him show me around, and introduce me to, the people he knows. I feel that the best part of traveling is the people you meet, and to really meet a group of people takes time–to find your contacts, to have them introduce you around, and really get to know them as people, instead of the usual tourist show. I wish I weren’t on a schedule…if I’d been traveling solo, truly solo, with no timeframe, I’d have stayed in Xela at least another few days, maybe a week, before leaving for Antigua. Traveling on a timeframe is the absolute pits.
Oh, to have six months to travel again…
Well, anyway, I’m here in Antigua, and I’ve already scored one splendid piece–it’s a huipil (woman’s blouse) covered with colorful parrots and flowers in what looks like needlepoint, but is actually extremely detailed brocade weaving. And it’s double-faced–the pattern is the same on both front and back, which takes even more skill. They do these incredibly complex weavings on the backstrap loom, because it’s portable–they can’t cart around a floor loom, but a backstrap loom can go anywhere, and they can work on it wherever they are. I saw a little girl working on one of those huipils, while minding the shop. Tomorrow I’ll go back and try to get a photo of her, and try to buy the loom she’s working on along with the part-finished piece–if I can convince her to part with it, it will be priceless for demonstrations and examples.
I’m pleased with how good my Spanish is, now–I’ve been getting around quite well recently, and bargaining in Spanish is coming easily and well. This afternoon I asked a couple people where to find an ATM, and had no trouble understanding their response. It’s such a relief to be able to move about so easily, and such a contrast with the gringos I see on the streets. I can talk to shopkeepers, ask them where something came from, even say, “Hey, that comes from Xela, doesn’t it?”, and even have short conversations about the pieces on display. It’s much better than where I was even a few days earlier. I love it.
Damn. I really wish I had more time here. I never should have gotten that ticket to Belize.
Well, I did buy it, and off I’ll go, and I’ll certainly have a great time there. But it won’t be here.
Three weeks isn’t long enough. Six months isn’t long enough. I want to see EVERYTHING! And there are so many things I’ll never get to see, try, do. Life is so damn short.