Thursday, February 14, 2013

El Corazon del Mundo Maya

Some people exchange gifts. Some have a fancy night out on the town. Some go through elaborate mating rituals.

Not us Roving Dogs.

Big Dog is disgusted with "made up" holidays, hyped up by marketing, so even when I assure him St. Valentine's Day is no more "made up" than Easter, he always ignores it. And while most Japanese embrace other people's Holy Days, I remain largely uninvolved with Judeo-Christian-Islamic celebrations.

The IDEA of a Universal Love Day appeals to me greatly, though, and I have sort of co-opted the 14th of February as my holiday. Big Dog still ignores it, but am I detecting a celebratory pattern of our own? Seems we find ourselves in a new and different place every February 14th. Tokyo - Boracay - Waikiki - Puerto Escondido - Barra de Navidad - Zihuatanejo - Los Angeles - Campeche... and now, Antigua, Guatemala. Hearts on Holiday in El Corazon del Mundo Maya.

We Dogs are at our best On The Road. I've written about this before, but when I am traveling, I can completely let go. Nothing has to be a certain way. Nothing upsets me much -- snags, misunderstandings, even more sinister things just become part of the fun of being on the move. It's much the same for Big Dog. When he has to be in charge (i.e., in control) he can be a pain in the ass. Especially when he begins feeling that control slipping away one way or another.

On the road, we both just laugh. So what better way to spend our Heart Holiday: on the road and in some new place every year.

Love Day 2013 found us in the heart of the Mayan World, as so many travel posters reminded us.

We left LAX on Tuesday, after a cold, rainy weekend and a chilly but clear Monday. Loads of friends and former colleagues from Tokyo were in town for the Grammys during its coldest.

"At least you got a bit of our famous sunshine on your last day," I said to a small group of close friends, mostly former and current radio personalities. Some had relocated to LA while others were here from Tokyo and London.

The cold front must have been moving south because when we arrived in Guatemala, it was grayer and chillier than I had expected.

For Big Dog, it was a long-awaited return. Close to 40 years had gone by since his first visit. For me, it was a first and initially, it was a bit of a let down. Big Dog had really built it up and I'm not sure what I had expected, but the outskirts of Guatemala City just seemed like a more polluted, conjested, chaotic version of the outskirts of Guadalajara (or any other giant Mexican city.)

Antigua looked a lot like a smaller version of San Cristobal de Las Casas in many ways, except for the myriad of hostels, posadas, hospetajes, B&Bs, boutique hotels and luxury accoms. Like San Cristobal, there were no high rises and most of the architecture felt authentic.

"Jesus, it's become Katmandu!" sighed Big Dog. "The Gringo Trail is well paved now."

Every other place was either lodging, a travel agency or a Spanish school. In between were restaurants catering to visitors who HAD to have a non-Guatemalan meal. You would think that a touristy place like this would have more restaurants featuring Guatemalan cuisine, but I'm starting to think Guatemalan cuisine is like Swiss cuisine -- they both nervously glance towards their neighbors.

"They didn't used to allow cars in here," Big Dog complained again.
"Wish they hadn't. The exhaust fumes are horrid on these narrow streets."
Another van belching black exhaust that you can TASTE drove by, punctuating my statement.

With the cloud cover, haze and (most likely) smog, I had not been able to see that famous sight of the quaint streets of Antigua with the volcano is the background.

Yet, I was liking Guatemala and its people more and more.

I've been wondering about this and have come to the conclusion that it's LOVE. There is love in the air. Not so much a ROMANTIC kind of love, but a sort of UNIVERSAL love.

These people have seen the worst sort of violence, human rights violations, all sorts of atrocities -- it's hard to believe that we're only a little over a decade removed from all of this -- and yet they are the sweetest, kindest people. If smiles were currency, Guatemala might be the wealthiest country in the world.

While other couples have champagne and roses and candlelight tonight, it seemed perfect for us to be sharing pupusas and a Gallo beer in a hold-in-the-wall eatery festooned with glittery red paper and plastic hearts and surrounded by smiley people. Guatemala is the ♥ of El Mundo Maya if not the ♥ of the whole darn Mundo.
 Pretty flowers in our hostel garden.

 Wedding photo shoot in Antigua.

 Like so many Latin American countries, Number One Priority is Family.

 Sexy fountain in the middle of town.

Street food is always good.

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