Tuesday, November 25, 1997

After a much needed cup of coffee I headed across the muddy causeway from Flores to Santa Elena.

A look back at the island of Flores from Santa Elena.

Santa Elena is not as attractive as Flores, but it is definitely more Guatemala-like. I had some more coffee in a street cafe that also sold McDonald's hamburgers. No joke. They even had a crude drawing of the golden arches right on the menu. Afterward I strolled through the muddy market and looked at some more unauthorized, copyright infringing, phony merchandise. It was very enjoyable. You could buy pirated cassettes of popular artists for really cheap, if you don't mind the poor quality photocopy covers. The recordings were hopefully of somewhat better quality. There were racks of Geuss , Kalvin Clien, Levy, Timmy Hillfinger, Eddy Bower, etc. all at unbelievably low prices! It started to rain again, and the merchants covered their goods so the labels wouldn't wash off.

My plane to Guat City was scheduled to leave early in the afternoon, so I went over to the airport early and got my shoes cleaned. Since this part of Guatemala is unpaved and very wet, shoe cleaning is a very lucrative business. Every kid who's parents can't afford to send him to school is a shoeshine entrepreneur. (School is not free in Guatemala)

Here's a funny story: Everyone who knows me knows I hate to fly. Alcohol is the only thing that keeps me from screaming when I have to travel by air. I bought a pint of "Old Friend" (really bad Guatemalan whiskey) to help me along and poured it into my straw- activated water bottle so I wouldn't look like a lush. I had a few sips before I got on the plane, but when we got into the air I needed more. I popped the top, and guess what? this aircraft cabin is not pressurized! The change in pressure forced a lethal dose of "Old Friend" directly into my face! So much for not looking (or smelling) like a lush.

This is the plane that miraculously ferried me to Guatemala City.

Guatemala city is pretty cool from the air. On the ground it looked a lot more like a normal, busy, hectic, run of the mill, capitalist city except that it is set in a very attractive valley. When you look at it from the air, the only thing that would improve the picture is if you could remove the city from the valley.

On the ground, the assault of taxi and minibus drivers began. Ha! I had prepaid for my shuttle to Antigua, along with 16 other passengers and we all crammed into a 7 passenger van so we could sit in traffic for the rest of the afternoon.

It is a rule of thumb in the third world that minibus drivers will wait until the van is full before getting fuel. Then they chat with the attendant for 20 minutes.

A Danish girl I met at the airport in Flores- Tine, showed me a cheap hotel (Posada La Quinta) when we finally got to Antigua. They were out of $5 rooms, so I had to settle for a $7 double. The bed was pretty stiff, but at least the price was right. Tine took me to where all the gringo expatriates hang out and we had dinner. It looked very much like a place where gringos would hang out. After dinner, I headed back and washed my whiskey- soaked shirt.

Continue to day 10.

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