From the Posada's Guest Book

Steven Kinzer, Author of "Bitter Fruit" the history of the CIA in Guatemala





Comida and Culture (published in the episcopal news) 
By: Ned Popovich
These are the personal memoirs of my trip to the tropical country of Guatemala 
in the spring of 2003 (March 26th - April 3rd). Looking back upon the memories, 
I hope that this will inspire you to take the trip to Guatemala to assist our 
companion Diocese. 
Upon my arrival to the city of Guatemala (Wednesday the 26th), I was met by our 
guide, Victor Hugo. He was a man in his late fifties, spoke perfect English and 
had a wonderful sense of humor. He drove us (the Thomaes and I) around town for 
a while to soak in the picturesque view of the city. Guatemala City is a 
beautiful cultural mecca. It small streets are flowing with market stalls, 
people in native dress, and of course, hundreds of tourists from all over the 
world. We continued our wonderful tour and finally made our way to Posada Belen. 
It is a lovely little, very home like hotel tucked away on Calle 13 A. On the 
inside, it has tiled floors, with a small outdoor garden, including a fountain 
and two turtles. The owners, Francesca and Rene, are two of the nicest people 
that we met. The meals at the hotel are absolutely superb. Home cooked by Felix, 
the meals begin with a soup, then continue to a main course and a finished by 
either plantanos or homemade ice cream. The rooms are nicely arranged with one, 
two or three beds, a personal bathroom, shower and wardrobe. Comfortable and 
very affordable, it is worth going just to stay in the hotel.
On Thursday, we were picked up by Victor in the early hours of the morning to 
take the hour and a half drive to Chicicastenengo. Driving on the highway that 
goes North all the way to Mexico, it was packed with trucks loaded with melons 
to take to the market and buses and dozens of buses all around. This is the 
public transportation in the country, so the people take buses everywhere. They 
stop virtually anyway there is a person waiting flagging them down. We stopped 
about half way at a wonderful restaurant made out of wood and a gigantic 
thatched roof. The inside was so nice and they served wonderful authentic 
Guatemalan breakfasts: eggs, sausage, papayas, frijoles negros, and a really 
tasty cookie like thing, known as sweet bread.  We continued on to 
Chicicastenego, where we went through the market. Hundreds of vendors packed the 
crowded little streets as we made our way to the church of St. Tomas, built on 
the steps of a Mayan ruin. Inside were many offerings and flowers to dead 
relatives. We continued through the streets looking at the stalls placed in the 
street. There are hundreds of vendors trying to sell you things. In addition, 
there are little children in the street, either begging of tugging on your 
clothes to buy little knick-knacks that they have for sale. 
The next day, we took the five-hour drive to Mariscos. Once in Mariscos, we met 
Padre Abraham and his wife, Dona Juanita. The welcomed us graciously into their 
home, despite the scorching temperature and high humidity. We stayed in the 
Bishop's house, which had electricity, fans and a refrigerator. The following 
day we went to Playa Dorado, where Padre Abraham has a second church that he 
preaches at in addition to San Estaban. On that Sunday, we drove to Rio Dulce, 
to see Padre Victor, and his wife. The church is a small little one (though it 
has electricity and a sound system) with a beautiful little ornate altar. The 
service is quite the same as ours, except it is in Spanish. They do use the same 
prayer book as we do. That afternoon, with Padre Victor, we went to the Castillo 
de San Felipe, a castle in the harbor of Rio Dulce, guarding the port from 
marauding British ships in the 16th century. Relatively small, we toured through 
the main section of the castle, the dungeon area, and finally up onto the 
highest part, where the portcullis is controlled for access to the castle. On 
our last day in Mariscos (Monday) we drove to see Rolando (a lay pastor), and 
gave him art supplies for the large number of children in the day care at his 
     Then we continued the five-hour journey back to Guatemala City. All the 
way, you could feel you ears pop because of the rise in elevation. Mariscos is 
about 150 - 200 feet above sea level, where as Guatemala City is about the 
elevation of Denver, Colorado. Once back in the city, we said good-bye to 
Victor, and set off to drop our luggage at the hotel. From there we continued on 
to the Central Market, in Guatemala City. I had thought that the market in 
Chicicastenego was large, but this market was incomparable. Shops were squeezed 
into every available inch of area. Thousands of people crowded the square and 
the surrounding area. Vendors would follow us, trying to get us to buy things 
from their shop. We stopped numerous times to bargain with vendors, trying to 
talk them down to lower prices on certain items. Most of the time, they will go 
down anywhere from twenty to a hundred quetzals (there are about 8 quetzals to 
the US dollar), just to get an American tourist to buy something. In one 
instance I was looking into buying hammock. I talked the merchant down but she 
refused, only to later follow me trying to get me to buy it, offering a new 
lower price lower price. 
On the following day (Tuesday), Victor drove us to the archeological museum, in 
the center of Guatemala City, following our glance at the National Palace (which 
was closed for presidential meetings). We toured the museum, which was very 
interesting. It had artifacts from various Mayan ruins from all around 
Guatemala. There were also stone pillars from Tikal and other ruin sites on 
display in the rotunda. We then continued to drive through the "residential" 
section of the city. Basically, it is a Guatemalan version of Beverly Hills. 
Dozens of mansions squished together on land. Most of them were embassies, 
though there were multiple residential houses in the area as well. 
On our last day in Guatemala, we drove to Cuilapa, to visit Padre Hugo (who came 
to our church a few years ago). His church (Jesus de Palmas) was on top of a hug 
bluff, over looking the highway that leads into El Salvador. We talked with him 
for a time, and he played some folk songs for us on his guitar. His church has a 
complete sound system, plus and electronic organ. We then drove to a really good 
restaurant, about a stones throw from the border of El Salvador. We then dropped 
Hugo back off at his house and drove back to Guatemala City and made it just in 
time for dinner. We then checked all our bags to make sure we had everything 
packed and then called it a night. 
            On Thursday morning we drove to the airport. After waiting in line 
we got our boarding passes and headed for the gate early, knowing that the 
security checks would take a while. Finally we got t the checkpoint. A guard 
signaled to us and told us to go through the metal detectors, the to go to the 
tables on the right to have our luggage searched. The practically tore my bag 
apart. They searched every nook and cranny, including the lining of my pants, 
and every pocket in my bag. Obviously I had nothing to hide, but it was 
terrible. And the worst part was, he didn't put everything back the way I had 
done it, and now my bag was stuffed and overcrowded. Finally we got onto our 
plane, and we landed twenty minutes early in Houston. When we first got to 
immigration, I was afraid that they wouldn't let me in because of the Che 
Guevara t-shirt that I was wearing. But we got through ok, until Customs. We 
were searched again. It took a long time, though not as long as in Guatemala. 
Finally we took off, and three and a half hours later, we landed in 
Philadelphia. So ended my excursion to Guatemala and I encourage everyone to go. 
It is safe, and it is a great experience to help our companion churches.       
     When you look at the essence of the lives of the people living in 
Guatemala, you can see that they have only one main objective: to survive. The 
country is in a state of turmoil, as the economy plummets due to hurricanes and 
droughts. The people of the country don't think about what they will eat for the 
next meal, because they can't even guarantee that they will get a next meal. 
They focus more on the important things in life, such as assisting their 
children in any way possible to get them an education. Most of the children in 
Guatemala don't go to school for the reason that their parents cannot afford to 
have them go. The average cost, per semester, for a middle school student is 
almost five hundred quetzals. That is almost a ten-month salary for a normal 
working person in Guatemala. 
     This is all well and good to hear the adventures of another person, but you 
ask yourself, "What have I got to do with this?" Well, the answer is, you can 
contribute and go to Guatemala, or if you are unable to go, to help in every way 
possible in order to fund the trip, donate supplies to the people, or organize 
other efforts to help out companion churches. As a final word, and more as a 
command, you need to go to Guatemala. The things that our church has been doing 
are not enough. We need to have more people take the journey to Guatemala and 
experience the life of everyday people trying to scrape by in a third world