Thursday, February 11, 2010


This is what it looked like a couple of days ago outside the home of our friends Betty and Scott, not far from Washington DC. Until today they hadn't managed to get out at all. Supplies of food were holding up, but the Zacapa Centenario was reportedly running low.*

In comparison my recent dip into the northern winter seems comparatively un-testing.

I'm certainly glad to be home now. Back in the UK I had been starting to feel a bit like a fish out of water — or perhaps like one of those parrots in Greenwich Park.

And on the several trips I made up to London I'd been beset by a sudden panic as I recognised the sense of heaviness brought on by the gravitational pull of the metropolis. For two years now I've wallowed in the very bearable lightness of being that comes with having escaped it, but I now realise that it only takes a ride or two on the tube before one's features start assuming the careworn grimace worn by the majority of one's fellow passengers down there.

Narrowly escaping 'snowmageddon' in New York, I flew down into the Yucatán and then bused myself into Chiapas. By this time the combined weight of my two cases (let alone the mochila with the tequila reposado and laptop in it and the plastic bag bearing the catalogue from the Van Gogh exhibition) was close to 65kg.

The big case had to be hoisted onto the roof of the shuttle in San Cristóbal using a heavy strap with a hook on the end of it. When the driver pulled up some 150m short of the Immigration building at the border I felt like a mula in all senses of the term.

Still, V was very pleased with most of the little luxuries I'd lugged from Heathrow to Huehuetenango, especially the edible ones. To celebrate we cooked ourselves something of a fusion dish last night: genuine Italian farfalle with tuna and peas, in a Indonesian shrimpy sambal sauce.

The Cuchumatanes are impressive and the road through them is much improved. Note to self: must return here with car, wife and dogs and explore a bit during the Guatemalan verano.

I'm beginning to think that as with the Cylons, there are only eight different types of traveller one is likely to meet on the shuttle between Antigua and San C de las C. How many times will I have to do this trip before I am confronted with my own facsimile?

A quick glance around the minibus revealed the middle-aged Mexican couple visiting Guatemala for the first time, the know-it-all European girl with blonde dreads and tats who's practically a resident now and would rather not mix with her fellow foreigners etc.** Different DNA for sure, but typologically almost identical.

One last observation about the state of the British economy as it pops a periscope up out of recession. No matter what it is you want to buy over there, they're determined to sell you something else with it.

A new pair of iPhone earbuds? Want insurance for them? A birthday card. How about some half price Cadbury's chocolate? A ticket to see Avatar? Have you tried the VIP seats?

Everyone's into upselling. There's hardly a product that doesn't come with a side-order of figurative fries. And it's not hard to see why, because it's a tried and tested way of spotting the people who think the bad times are over and don't mind being a bit discretionary with their income again.

* Their Chapin neighbours have been shoveling the white stuff out of their drive and into the main road in a manner not dissimilar to our own, whose technique for ridding themselves of piles of dust in front of their portones usually involves relocating said polvío to an area in front of someone else's house.

** In fact the unsmiling European blonde (they travel alone or in pairs) who acts as if Mexico is presenting itself to her as one big inconvenience, is also a rather common sight on the first class buses of OCC and ADO.

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