Friday, 15 February 2008

Baby Showers and Bullets!

Three days of serious shopping, eating and bureaucracy with a little excitement thrown in for good measure!

TWO double beds to chose from in our room precipitated our first crisis as we arrived in Guatemala City. We haven't slept that far apart for years! Could we cope without our toes cramped together in V-berth formation? Would we fall out without the hull side to keep us in place? Well the answers are yes and no respectively...

Only one bed got used, too lonely without good old TBH to cuddle up against but it was lovely to have proper mattresses and duvets. I would happily have stayed there for the whole three days but there were 'things' to do.

Orientating oneself to a new metropolis is always challenging, and tiring. We had a lot of pointers from fellow cruisers before heading across the continent but until you see it for yourself it is always difficult to imagine the real layout of a new city. Our hotel was centrally placed, small and intimate if a little tatty and sadly no Bath Tub...that was a bit of a disappointment.

Nine am on Day 1 and we presented ourselves at the first hairdressers that we could find. Six months off please!~ She did a brilliant job and we were unrecognizable on our return to the hotel. It is a real treat to sit in a salon and be pampered , once it happened so regularly that I was always in a hurry for the experience to end but now its an event to be savoured...

By 10am we arrived at the British Embassy to begin the performance of renewing our passports. The good news, after 3 attempts we actually managed to compete the forms correctly, the bad news, it will be up to four weeks before the new ones are ready to collect.

A trip to the hypermarket and overdosing on retail therapy came next... it was like being a kid in a Candy Store all over again. Electronics, clothes, food, booze, fishing rods.....we were as restrained as we could be, thats a huge change from our previous lives where the collection of 'stuff' was a daily event.

Now we think more deeply and turn away far more often....except of course when TBH laid eyes on the iPod display! Bet you are really surprised at that one! Yup he is now the proud owner of the Classic 160 gigabyte model...and seems to have become permanently attached to the thing...

Still it's lovely to see him so enamored of a new piece of technology. Moving on to a boat and away from the fast moving world of computers and business was a massive step and whilst it's easy to keep up with software development and management issues over the web there is nothing to beat the satisfaction of some hands on button pressing time!

We found nori and sushi rice, knickers and books, champagne and even fresh LAMB! All in all a most satisfying retail experience.

But, of course, there is another side to life in a Central American City. The beggars at the side of the street, most missing at least one limb, many with both hands cut off during the appalling civil war that raged until less than 10 years ago here in Guatemala. It made me think that the veneer of peace is just that, a very thin veneer here.

The long drive, over 5 hours , along the main highway that leads from the Atlantic coast to the city is an eye-opener. From the tropical jungle to the high sierra. Through massive mono-culture acres of banana's, pineapples, melons or grapes. The roadside is lined with stalls all selling their mountains of fruit, there was a unifying vision of massive poverty. More than I have seen in the other Central American countries we have visited. This is a land of much wealth held in very few pairs of hands. 60% of the population live below the poverty line. A teacher takes home $180 a month. The basic wage is $120 and many don't earn that.

In the hotel there was a party, a baby-shower, being held by some rich Guatalmatecos. The designer dressed, jewelry laden women were each accompanied by at least one, often two, gun toting bodyguards as they arrived carrying their gifts for the mum to be. I was left with a strange feeling of discomfort and some trepidation in me....

I sense a country that is far from peace, that has a side that we gringos will rarely see, let alone begin to understand.

Never was it more forcibly bought home than as we began our return journey. The bus station loaded us aboard the 11.30am coach bound for the Rio Dulce. Our bags were searched and the men patted down to look for concealed weapons. They didn't search the women! We pulled out of the bus station only to be directed to the side of the road by hoard's of gun toting policemen. We were to be escorted in a convoy out of the city! Now I wasn't too worried by this until the bus driver scrabbled down the side of his seat and pulled out his bullet-proof body armour! And put it on looking worried! Oh boy!

We had booked the two front seats to get the best view and never have I regretted prime position so much! There I was a large white woman sat in prime target range through the panoramic sized windscreen.....blimey! You try not to worry don't you? Well it wasn't working for me I can tell you! Thoughts of the movie 'Babel' ran through my mind as we began the drive out of town.

All was well though and eventually we made it out of the suburbs. The driver took off the flak jacket and I breathed a sigh of relief . Twenty minutes later a pickup truck in front of us took umbrage at the driving of the wagon in front of him and as he overtook a handgun was thrust through the drivers window and three rounds loosened off at the offending wagon...ohmigod! This was all getting a little too real for me....

So an adventure, an eye opener and a wake up call to the reality of life in this country. It's all too easy down here in the cultural bubble of a marina to forget that this is a raw, and still unstable struggling land. I will do well to remember that...

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