January 31st 1982

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The colonnade around the main square (and location of La Galeria)

We’d arranged this morning to meet Pedro at a local hotel, where he plays table-tennis every Sunday.  However, first priority was breakfast, which was yet another magnificent yogurt, this time with bananas substituted for strawberries.  Pedro was together with about half-a-dozen friends, playing a sort of round robin tournament, the winner staying on.  Unfortunately, I played fairly appallingly, + only managed to win a game right at the end, against someone who wasn’t very special.  I was annoyed with myself, because I know I could have shown myself up better.  Lots of excuses, of course – it was out in the open air, the ball was light etc etc but really I just played badly.  Val sat + read – she seemed fairly happy to do that – + we packed up at about 12.30.

Val + I sat in the square for a few hours, reading (the book on World War 3 is incredibly interesting, the first half an explanation of the current situation, the second a very plausible projection), + macramed a couple of bracelets.  Or at least began, since at first it takes a little while.  You certainly get hooked tho’.  There was a religious procession in the afternoon, but rather too solemn + morbid for our tastes, so we abandoned it in favour of the more secular pleasure of a Peter Sellers film, “The Party.”  The film was very enjoyable, tho’ the quality of projection in Guatemalan cinemas is dreadful.  Loss of sound, the film getting darker + darker, jumps in continuity every time they change reel, complete breakdowns – the lot. 

Procession through Antigua

In the evening we decided to live it up a little, especially as we didn’t fancy the set meal.  So I persuaded Val to put on her dress,+ we set off in search of a good but respectably cheap restaurant.  A great deal of searching, + finally with some degree of uncertainty we tried a Japanese restaurant.  And it was perfect.  The lighting was low, the music good, Val looked beautiful, + the food was magic…  And it was cheap.  We both agreed it had been the most perfect meal of the holiday.  Afterwards we rounded off the evening with a chocolate cake in a local pasteleria, + a beer at the Galeria.

Me and games. huh?  I like to think I am not competitive, but still get annoyed when I don’t do as well as I thought I should.  The same applies to golf nowadays…

Another film to add to our list.  Or to one of our lists.  We had several at the time: movies, books, memorable meals.  Talking of which, all memory of the meal described here has escaped us.  I am usually suspicious of Japanese food, but clearly we enjoyed this one immensely.  The major improvement in our lives over the past couple of weeks was the diet, plus the fact that we did not have to be quite so careful about checking the price.  After we returned, it took us a long time to shift the habit of asking the price of anything before we bought it.

January 30th 1982

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This little piggie went to market…

Our last night on the lumpy bed – it seems to have railway tracks running down it – our last breakfast of beans + egg – here, anyway, tho’ they did make a special effort + give us our egg fried for a change – + it was time to go.  We gave our hosts a calendar with a picture of the local church on it (we’d got the calendar blank when we had our photos developed, + put in a picture we’d taken) + that seemed to please them.  Then we were off… tho’ not far.  Chris had recommended the Posada Refugio, where he had stayed for a couple of days, so we went there.  First we booked in, then got our room, then headed straight for their library of English books, + found at least 2 which grabbed our attention – “World War 3” + “Don Quixote”, the latter in particular being a real find since it was a book we both wanted to read.

Thus settled in, we spent what was left of the morning looking around the market – a really good one it is too.  With its variety, colour + life, it reminds one of an Eastern market rather than a Guatemalan.  A fabulous lunch of a huge pot of yogurt, with granola + fresh strawberries, smothered in all the honey we could manage to eat.  After lunch, we met up with Chris + caught the bus out to San Antonio, a local village famous for its weaving.  The bus ride was fun – a few of us were standing, since as usual the bus was absolutely packed, but we had to duck down when we went past a police post.  I also amused myself immensely by making the Indian kids on the bus laugh, + that seemed to tickle the adults too… they really are so nice here.

Market scene

San Antonio was an attractive little village, nestled in beautifully among the mountains.  A  nice old church, + quite a lot of weaving stalls + shops.  We were a little disappointed in the weaving – lots of nice stuff, but nothing really as special as we were looking for.  However, a very pleasant afternoon, + a wedding in the church, + 3 Pepsis, + finally Val did buy a beautiful dress.  Returned to Antigua, bought some silks in the market to do some macramé, Chris being our teacher.

In the evening we saw a film – The Trinity Angels – entertaining but trashy.

January 29th 1982

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Chris K

And so, from first to last day of term in just 5 days.  The day passed very comfortably – Pedro + I chatted for most of the time, about a great variety of things, tho’ we did a variety of exercises as well.  I’m reasonably good at understanding written Spanish – I even manage to read full articles in the Grafico – but it’s when it comes to oral work that I’m really buggered.  2 things really – I try to translate with word to word accuracy, so get discouraged when I can’t, rather than trying to catch the general sense; + I tend to daydream, + so miss chunks.  I also think my hearing is not all that it might be, so I don’t catch the words properly.  Anyway, despite all this, I… we… think the week has been well worth-while, giving us an intellectual basis to our understanding of the language.  I did raise a laugh in the school when I related my experience in the shop opposite, when I’d asked for jabon de pollo – that’s chicken soup – rather than jabon de polvo – soap powder.  Ah well.

After school, we trotted back to the house, I stripped naked + got into bed, + Val, wearing as little as possible, took all our clothes to the launderette.  I was a bit worried Val would be late, or get run over or something, leaving me naked, but in fact she was back in time for dinner.

In the evening, as per usual, we went to the Galeria.  Had a really good time.  Pedro plays guitar there, so we talked for a bit, + Chris turned up, so we were able to give him “Phineas Finn”, + show him the photos.  We also got out the backgammon, + played a few games of that.  It was really nice, just like being in a pub at home.

So, a reasonably good school report.  Learning Spanish has been a positive, but I think we were just as pleased with the excuse it gave us to stay, make some friends, relax and enjoy just being there.

January 28th 1982

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Lukie and Val

Somehow I have to spin out a page’s worth of writing from some very thin thread – very little happened today.  Of course, we got up, then had beans + egg, tortillas + bread for breakfast.  Not difficult to remember, because it’s what we always have.  And then school.

The initial rush has paid off, because I at least am able to relax pretty much + just chat.  Fortunately, I get on very well with Pedro, my teacher.  He seems to appreciate my attempts at humour – I imagine it must be very dull just listening to the same exercises over + over, so any little variety is probably welcome… at least I hope so.  And yes, I can manage a little humour in Spanish, tho’ I don’t really think you would call it wit.  It’s just, usually, giving the wrong answer to a verbal question, + then justifying it, e.g. “Do you walk on your hands or your feet?”  “Both, when I’m drunk.”  Also, I’m able to translate a few simple jokes into Spanish, + the occasional funny story.  We’ve also reached the stage of a fair bit of oral comprehension where I read stories + then answer questions, and a lot of the stories we use are quite funny, so, one way and another, the time passes very pleasantly.

I don’t think Val is quite so lucky with her teacher in that respect, but then, it’s probably true that Val is more in need of basic coaching in grammar + vocabulary, which her teacher, Lukie, is able to give.

Anyway, in the evening, after our meal, we set out to find Chris.  We’d said we would see him, + he must have been wondering what had happened to us, since we’d been missing from the usual haunts for the past 2 nights.  There really are only 3 places to look, assuming there’s  not a decent film on at either of the town’s 2 cinemas.  There’s the main square, which is a nice place to sit if it’s not too cold, + 2 gringo bars, the Galeria (Ignacio’s) + 1 other, with a strange name.  We ended up in the Galeria – couldn’t find Chris, so played backgammon instead.

Just another day in the classroom, as well as just enjoying being a part (albeit most temporarily) of a small community. Our search for Chris K is an example: a friend to try to track down, but also an excuse to wander. We liked Antigua a lot.

January 27th 1982

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Street scene, Antigua

I felt rather better this morning – well, a little, at any rate, so that I was able to cope with my lessons, + at first break buy a copy of the better Guatemalan newspaper, the Diario Grafico.  Searching the sports page vainly for some reference to England, specifically who their opponents will be in the World Cup, discovered the news that Diego Maradona, the “new Pele”, was coming to town with his club, Boca Juniors, to play an exhibition match against the Guatemalan champions, Communicaciones.  Then, going home for lunch, we saw a sign outside a shop opposite the house offering tickets for travel to the game.  We bought a couple, altho’ this would mean missing our tea… Still, what the hell, it’s not everyday you see a superstar.

We arrived at the stadium at about 7, + were immediately able to buy tickets for Q2.10 from a lady ticket-tout – this was only 10 centavos more than the actual price.  I was rather pleased, because I had tried + failed to buy tickets off a guy on the bus for Q2.50.  First we bought some food from the stalls outside the stadium, + then went in.  There was the same excitement there always is at a night match, the lights adding to the atmosphere, + the stadium was already pretty well packed with everyone seated, in our section (the cheapest) on concrete benches.  We made a mistake tho’, in not immediately searching out, + fighting for, a place with a decent view.  At first we tried down the front, but there you could see nothing, + were a target for various missiles as well.  Eventually, + rather too late, we set off to find a better place, Val thro’ the mass, me around it.  I aroused the attention of a few “throwers”, but by acting a joke out of it, managed to escape serious injury.  Eventually found a half-reasonable place, tho’ it turned out to be a through route for various food salesmen with their wares, until we just grabbed the fence in front of us, + wouldn’t allow anyone thro’.

At half-time, + at the end of the match, there was bedlam, with oranges, beer, water, + burning newspapers being thrown around, to everyone’s great amusement.  The game, incidentally, was dull, Boca winning 1-0 with a goal by Diego himself.

Quite the cultural experience – or culture shock, more like, this proving to be very different from your average game back home.

January 26th 1982

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Pedro, my teacher

The day of the cold today – en Espanol, el catarro – tho’ it’s not really a new experience for me.  I must say I don’t recall my childhood as being one long succession of colds, but that certainly seems to be the case recently.  However, struggled thro’ the day without a great deal of enthusiasm – what I really wanted was to be coddled, to be snug in bed in a warm room, with books, magazines, radio, + steaming cups of hot chocolate along with thinly sliced bread with plenty of butter brought to me at regular intervals.  Also, the work was harder today – they try to give you all the basic grammar you need within a week, so that means hammering away at various tenses pretty quickly.  Val + I have got into the habit of going out for a mid-morning drink during our break (decanso) but it was agreat disappointment this morning when we ordered chocolate, to get the stuff made with water.  Lunch was tasty – it’s definitely the best meal of the day, tho’ not nearly big enough for my taste, then more school, then, with a certain amount of relief, the end of work for the day.

We’d been looking forward to this time, since our photos were supposed to be ready.  And they were, too.  We notede with great relief that they both had the requisite no. of photos, paid our Q20 – quite reasonable by recent standards – + trotted off to the park like a couple of excited kids to look at them.  They exceeded most of our hopes in fact – we were proper chuffed.  The first film was from the old camera, + tho’ one or two were a bit strange, there were some real  beauties, especially those from Caye Caulker.  Then we looked at the others, the test film of just 12 photos that we’d shot to see if the camera, the new camera, was up to much.  And tho’ the subject matter hadn’t been particularly interesting, there was a sharpness and clarity that had been missing of late from our old camera.  So, feeling well pleased with our fortuitous purchase, we trotted home, for dinner.  Immediately that was over, I crawled into bed, where Val joined me shortly after.

Apologies as ever for focusing on my own health… though of course such things do tend to occupy one’s thoughts, and after all this is a record of what I wasa feeling.  The fact that this was written some days after the event betrays me here, when I talk about regular mid-morning breaks, when this is only day 2!  Hm.

You know already that the camera worked out fine, but it was still a huge relief to us, having forked out a hefty sum, just on the off-chance.

January 25th 1982

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First day of school, eh?  Val + I were like a couple of kids, after breakfast, big brother packing a satchel for both.  It was with a degree of trepidation that we set off for school, but after arriving at the admin office, + then being assigned to our teachers, we didn’t really get much chance to think about it.  We were both pleased with our teachers – Val got a girl, Luki, + me a guy, Pedro, a guy I’d met before, since he plays the guitar at Ignacio’s bar.  The setting was pleasant.  I’d rather imagined a biggish hall, a bit like an examination room at school, but this was just a dozen or so tables dotted around a courtyard, a couple of chairs to each, with plenty of plants etc to break things up.  We both very much enjoyed the work – I in particular have felt useless, as tho’ I’m just wasting my time, for quite a while now, so it was good to have to do some positive thinking again.  For me, we began with general conversation, then moved on to definite exercises, + learning of tenses etc.  Most of the work was verbal, tho’ – definitely my weakness.  Also we’d been warned that our school, Tikal, has a bad reputation, that we might just be left to work thro’ books, + we were pleased that neither of us experienced this.

At lunchtime, we went to the bank, to replenish our rapidly diminishing supply of cash, + there met Chris, our German friend.  Spent some time chatting, + arranged to see him later at the cinema.  Rushed back for our lunch, then more school in the afternoon – by no means a chore, a definite pleasure.  At 5, when we finished, we went to a craft shop we’d seen yesterday, to look at some hammocks.  I indicated my preference, then left Val to bargain for them.  She managed to beat them down from Q18 each to Q28 for both – really  nice, too.

After dinner, the cinema – a double bill of “The Shining” + “The Exorcist”.  I had a stinking cold, unfortunately, + the films finished really late, but did especially enjoy seeing “The Shining” again.

Rather nervous about the demands of school, but actually I enjoyed it, especially since I got on well with Pedro, my teacher.  Back to our full complement of hammocks now; we are finding the cost of things here much more to our liking.  Quite a double bill at the cinema, and I have to say I had completely forgotten seeing it.

January 24th 1982

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Breakfast was at 8 – a special treat, since it was Sunday, of being an hour later.  Still could have been in the middle of the night so far as we were concerned, since first our room has no window, so is pitch black, + second we were both shattered.  Not a very exciting breakfast tho’ – it seems we must get used to beans, tortillas + coffee.  Afterwards, a short rest, + then we went out for a stroll, before our lunch engagement.  However, our stroll didn’t last long.  While walking past the cinema, we discovered that they were showing a double-bill for just a few centavos, so we decided to give it a whirl.  We’d missed most of the first film, but settled down to watch “Spiderman”.  At least, we did once we’d found a seat.  It was a huge cinema, but was absolutely packed, almost exclusively with kids, so that, in the pitch dark, we had the greatest of difficulty finding 2 seats.  The film was in English, with Spanish sub-titles, but obviously the vast majority of the audience was only there for the action, so especially when the action slowed, they were very noisy.  The film was really pretty rubbishy, but I enjoyed it nonetheless – took me back to Saturday morning pictures!

Just in time, when the film finished, to shoot round to Ignacio’s – a modern bungalow in a private courtyard.  He + his wife were very friendly, + made us welcome, with drinks, + then a terrific meal – meat + rice, followed by bread + butter pudding.  Joanne came from Bromley, + had worked in the British diplomatic service for some time before marrying Ignacio + producing a baby.  We left at a little after 3, feeling very full, + then took our stroll around town.  Antigua is by no means spectacular – except for the mountains all around – but it has much charm, + seems, at least to us, very friendly.  We visited the market, which wasn’t very lively for a Sunday in other places, plus a museum, plus a few shops, before returning home for our evening meal, after which we amused ourselves variously.  I’d found a 10-centavo lending library, so polished off Richard Bach’s “Illusions”, played cards, read a little of the paper, followed by an early night – school tomorrow.

Strange that I should be so critical of the breakfast offering, since our joint memory is that we enjoyed this very much indeed.  And fun to be able to go to the cinema, all the more so since it was so affordable.  This was a very early Spiderman, pre-CGI, or anything very much in the way of special effects.

Pleased to enjoy some English hospitality; we did wonder whether this was something Ignacio did with every English visitor, just to give his wife a taste of England.

January 23rd 1982

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Our host family

A wonderful, glorious night’s sleep, + then we set off to see if we could buy the elusive missing battery.  There was a camera shop not far from the hotel, so we tried there first.  They didn’t have it, but were helpful, + gave us directions to 2 other shops.  The first one didn’t have it – we were beginning to get worried – but walked on to the second (thus doing what we said we wouldn’t so, walk around Guatemala City.)  To our relief they had one; to our shock it cost Q7.50.  And then when we’d bought it, it seemed as tho’ it still didn’t work – tho’ back at the hotel we discovered it did.  The only trouble we saw in the city was a jeep of armed soldiers tho’.

Packed up our stuff, walked to the bus, + off to Antigua, past some powerful volcano scenery on the way.  Off the bus, and strolling thro’ town, we passed a Spanish language school, + as we’d decided to spend a week here learning Spanish, we took it.  We enrolled for one week, 7 hrs a day, plus full board + lodging, which set us back $80 each.  Then the lady there took us to a restaurant next door where we were given lunch, then off in a taxi to the family where we were staying.  They seemed pleasant enough, + the room was clean, if a little tatty.

Strolled around town for a while, finishing off the 12-exposure film we’d bought to test the camera, + putting it in to be developed.  Also, strolled into a bar, + chatted with the friendly young owner, who happened to have an English wife, + so invited us round for lunch tomorrow.

Back “home” for dinner, which turned out to be frightfully uninteresting – mostly black bean stodge –  + then went out again.  Stopped off to visit a fiesta in the courtyard of a church, which, like many (all?) latin American celebrations we’ve seen, was bereft of life + colour – everyone seems content merely to stand + watch a group of rather dull musicians.  Then back to the bar.  As well as having an English wife, Ignacio also has an English barmaid, so we stood + chatted with her + others for quite a while.  I got rather drunk.

Away to the decidedly civilised and peaceful Antigua, the ancient capital, which we were much taken with. And, indeed, we have committed to it for at least a week. And happening upon a friendly and affordable bar has made it all the more attractive.

January 22nd 1982

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Val on the train

As requested, our friendly hotel manager rapped on our door at 6 am – the train left at 7, + we didn’t want to miss it.  In fact, we were in plenty of time, enough to grab a breakfast cup of coffee before climbing aboard + bagging our seats.  And very hard seats at that: just plain, wooden benches.  The carriage was the most primitive we’ve yet encountered, with many windows broken, tho’ whether by accident or guerrilla intervention, I couldn’t say. 

The train ride was a long one – 15 hours – but really passed very well.  I’ll try to put down a few impressions.  Some wonderful mountain scenery, on both sides of the train.  Arses incredibly sore, despite sitting in just about every imaginable way to try + ease the ache.  Every time the train started, a lurch forward, checked sharply by the coach in front, then jerked forward again – a triple blow enough to throw you if you were standing.  The usual supply of live, trussed chickens under one’s feet.  A fairly common selection of fruits + foods; maddeningly tho’, we tried very little, since we were saving ourselves for the 30 min lunch break at Zacapa.  And certainly 30 mins there were… but no restaurants.  Also at Zacapa, me desperately searching for a toilet, since I had the runs again.  (Runs?  I could barely walk!)  Passing a small brush fire, right next to the tracks, giving out a searing amount of heat – can’t imagine what these things are like when they really get going.  The conductor coming along screwing in light-bulbs as darkness came.  And being so very, very cold – tho’ fortunately we arrived before that went on too long.  Oh, + I finished my book.  It was OK – entertaining enough.

We had thought we would arrive later, + sleep in the station, but this was not possible, since they just got us thro’, then closed it.  Tried several hotels, the first seedy, most full, then one very nice, + a little expensive, which we took.  A marvellous little bedroom, with beautiful fresh clean sheets on neat, comfy beds, + its own bathroom with a hot shower.  Bliss.

So, our troubles in Livingston now behind us, and re-equipped with a camera, we are back on our travels.  And re-acquainting ourselves with the pluses and minuses of train travel in this part of the world.  And it does seem to have been to our advantage not being allowed to sleep in the station, for we received instead the pleasure of hot water and a clean bed.