Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Boots on the ground

Three days late we are outta jersey and living large in first class winging our way to Houston. A foot stamping, pushy gringo, who was having a fit at the kiosks on thursday (as if Continental could control the weather) is in the back of the plane showing much less attitude than before. Too bad! Pass the hot towels, please!

The pilot says we're fighting a 145mph wind on the nose so we arrive with just enough time to dash from gate to gate and board our next flight. It's still freezing in Houston so we do the runway de-ice after boarding, an experience somewhat akin to having a padre bless the plane before take-off, neither of which build confidence in yours truly.

Guatemala looks the same as we circle La Aurora airport dropping below the mountain tops and settling gently onto the runway. The rush of warm air as we exit the plane is a welcome change from the nasty weather of northeast Pennsylvania. Immigration and customs are a snap. One of Pam's bags has gone elsewhere but she has enough clothes for a day or two so its taxi time. My first choice in first class busses to Xela, Linea Dorada, no longer runs on saturdays, so we grab another taxi and head way across the city to Alamo Autobus. Older funkier greyhoundish looking rigs, without the sweet pilot's uniforms and a few quetzales cheaper but they get the job done and we arrive in Xela after an eighteen hour day covering 3000 or so miles.

We've booked a room at The Flora Inn, a few steps from Xela's central parque. Run by a Dutch/Guatemalan couple in her grandfather's converted colonial home, it is very comfortable with lots of hot water and includes breakfast at $35/night. Spotlessly clean, with fresh crisp sheets and fluffy towels each day it makes a great base for exploring the city. Sunday morning's clouds burn off by ten and Pam and I are both a little sunburned by afternoon, the thinness of the atmosphere at 7700 feet above sea level, I suppose. The first sunday of each month there is a nice handicraft market on the central square and we make good use of our fresh supply of quetzales (acquired from one of several ATM choices surrounding the parque).

When we've had our fill of hard bargaining mayan ladies we hit the food fair taking place a few steps away at Casa No'j, another nice old colonial structure with a large central courtyard complete with fountain. They are billed as a contemporary art space but none is in evidence today, only mayan ladies in traditional grab selling traditional goodies at reasonable prices. The Voices of the Highlands, seven sharply dressed marimbists with fourteen flying hands perform on two beautiful hand carved marimbas accompanied by bass and drums as we sit in the sun munching goodies.

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