The Merciless Peppers of Quetzaltenango
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Where I stayed
Casa De Lopez
On Sunday March 14 we caught a ride to the airport in Santiago from a friend of Rachele’s. The catch was this: our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3am, but apparently it is dangerous to be out on the highway after dark, so… We arrived at the airport around 9pm, with 6 hours to kill, in an empty airport.Fortunately there was free wifi available and we were able to skype and research our next few steps. As we lugged our bags to check in to the flight, 6 hours early, we were told that our flight was delayed by about 2 and half hours. Looks like we were going to see the sun rise over the DR one more time.
The airport was boring, and our flights weren’t much more exciting
Our flight to Guatemala City was pretty cool. I knew that Guatemala was mountainous but I just wasn’t prepared to see it from the air. Flying over and through the mountains was pretty damn cool.
Our stay in Guatemala City was very short but quaint. The Guest House, Dos Lunas, was perfect for our first night in a new country and I would highly recommend it to anyone flying in or out of Guatemala City. They picked us up at the airport, we had our own room with a hot shower (a first in five weeks) and provided breakfast and transportation to the bus terminal the next day. The price of our bus ticket was included in the cost of the room.
The bus was comfortable and worlds apart from the gua guas we were used to. The countryside passed by and immediately we were struck by the dazzling array of colors. 4 and a half hours later we arrived in Quetzaltenango. As you may recall, Quetzaltenango is home of the famous chili pepper that sent Homer Simpson on his vision quest where he met his spirit guide, a space wolf voiced by the legendary Johnny Cash. So.. Yeah, it’s got that going for it already. We were met at the bus terminal by our school’s owner, Glenda Lopez. Glenda, her husband Daniel and their 5 year old daughter Daniella took us on a 50 cent tour of Quetzaltenango, or Xela as the locals call it, and then on to our new home for the next 4 weeks.
Xela sits at roughly 7,000 feet above sea level and is completely surrounded by a ring of mountains and volcanoes. Xela is considered Guatemala’s second city, and may have surpassed the capitol city in scope and size had it not been for a massive earthquake in 1902 that leveled almost the entire city
The city itself is sprawling without being oppressive. Even in the heart of the city with it’s faux roman pillars and antique bank fašades, it still manages a tranquility that is both charming and endearing. I’ve seen instances of east meets west, and old meets new, but in the heart of this city and in its many bustling markets I’ve never seen a better example of this dichotic phenomenon. In one ear, you have a Mayan street vendor selling an ancient style of weaving, and in the other ear you have thumping electronic music. Elderly Mayans, every wrinkle in their face tells a story of both heart ache and break. Their culture and way of life were torn apart during the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors and saw a life of death and slavery well into the 19th century. Freedom was hard earned and peace was short lived. In the 1970s and into the 80s Guatemala found itself embroiled in a civil war and the Mayan villages of the highlands were hit tremendously hard. 440 villages burned and 200,000 Mayans lost their life caught in a struggle that had little to do with them.
Today however, you can see traditional Mayan dress, and hear any of the dozen or so Mayan tongues that are still alive today. There are villages where the language of the Maya is all that is spoken. What’s really fascinating is that it is spoken into cell phones. Even in the most remote of villages, in the highlands, you can see a Mayan woman, in colorful dress that dates back to the time of Christ, circling the farm trying to find a signal for her cell phone.
The people of this city, and Guatemalans as a whole, have been incredibly warm and friendly. Our teachers feel like friends and our hosts feel like family. It may still be early, but I have to say, when we move on to where ever that may be, it will be difficult to leave this city.