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Currently Location: back room of internet cafe, Antigua, Guatemala

04.02.07

Price of Beer in a bar: I’m guessing US$2 or some other outrageous
sum, based on the cost of the house rum
Song Currently stuck in my head: Do Things by New Wet Kojak

I never had any intention of going to Guatemala.  That’s why I paid
US$50 to take a boat directly from Belize to Honduras.  To me,
Guatemala is just a tourist trap for backpackers who aren’t paying
attention.  It’s like Costa Rica, but with considerably more violent
crime.  But, I’d never been here and I’m killing a month while waiting
for my friend Jake to meet me in Utila and I’d already spent far too
long in Honduras.  The last time I wrote I was debating  between
knocking out the month or so that I plan to spend in Panama or coming
to Guat.  Other travelers had been talking up this destination, and
when I received word from Espen that he and Christian (friends from my
open water SCUBA class) were still haunting Antigua, well, the
decision was made.  I had minor trouble on the bus, since there appear
to be two towns named Copan in Honduras, but I was able to arrive at
my border town relatively easily and relatively on schedule.  I
checked into The somethingoranother Verde in Copan, a hostel that the
Lonely Planet guide had raved about fan-boy style, and was immediately
sorry that I did.  The owner also owns a tour company and a cafe in
the town, and the LP guide writers pretty much wet themselves
reviewing each.  I think they called the tour company one of the best
services available in Honduras.  Maybe it is, maybe not… but my
“bed” sucked.  Mosquitoes, odd rules, early check out times, crappy
foam rubber “mattresses”, crappy even by Central American foam rubber
mattress standards, and way too few bathrooms were all included for
the near extortionate price of US$4 a night.  Mind you that I was
paying US$5 for a private room with a good mattress in Utila, where
prices are generally about 30% higher than the mainland.

But the blood of gringo cash is in the water of Copan.  There’s an
impressive set of Ruins that I browsed before leaving (gringo
admission is 300% or the price that Hodurans pay), and the city marked
my return to coffeeland, exporting their beans all over Honduras and
beyond.  Well heeled and nearly geriatric American expats and part
timers regularly make the trip down from Guatemala and the local
pricing has been adjusted accordingly.  I spent less than 24 hour in
the town and arranged a seat on a direct shuttle to Antigua, another
spot where the streets run green with American cash.  After the
easiest border crossing that I think I’ve ever encountered I was
watching the cliff side settlements of Guatemala hurry the other way
at 60mph.

I found out about an hour before boarding my shuttle that I was
heading smack into the epicenter of Semana Santa, one of the largest
festivals in all of Central America and a sort of solemn Mardi Gras.
I was warned repeatedly that the entire town had been booked solid for
months, and I was in no position to argue.  My only comfort came from
knowing that my two friends might be able to give me a cold tile floor
to sleep on or at least a place to store my bags.  I’d faced worse
odds, though usually with the back seat of a Ford Escort to fall back
on, and if worse comes to worst I have a full supply of Pro-V to help
my wait out a long, sleepless night outdoors.

Upon arrival at Jungle Party Hostel (yeah, the name sucks… it’s kind
of an inside joke and they mention it’s suckage on their shirts), my
third attempt as the sun went down and my chances of being mugged of
my pack went up, they were able to squeeze me in.  The next day I met
with my friends at their Spanish school and wasted the afternoon
smoking cigars and drinking 12 year old Flor de Cana in a boutique
cigar store and lounge.  We ended up engaged in lengthy conversations
with the proprietor and employee, both of which eventually had
something to offer: the employee and her boyfriend (gringos from DC)
rent 2 rooms in their house for a very reasonable rate and the owner’s
wife knows a guy who runs a US$1k a night hotel here in town that may
want to hire Christian to manage it.

First things first: I’m renting a spotless, resort class private room
with two beds, private bath, hot water, laundry and kitchen access for
about US$16 a night.  Meanwhile a bed at Jungle Party in considerably
less impressive digs is going for US$25 this week.  I asked Espen if
he wanted to take a look at the room and maybe split it, and he and
his newfound girlfriend instead rented the room upstairs.  It’s even
more impressive, combining the stats above with gorgeous views of both
the surrounding mountains and Baywatch via American cable.  These are
easily the best rooms I’ve seen since arriving in Central America and
I’m pretty comfortable saying that we have the best deal in town this
week.

Second, Christian is here in Central America looking to open a hotel.
He’s doing ground research for an investor back in Quebec and had
primarily been interested in Costa Rica but is re-thinking that
position.  He has hotel experience and is currently taking Spanish
classes every morning.  Other guy is looking for a French Canadian who
is willing to learn Spanish in the mornings and the management his
US$1000 a night hotel here in Antigua by night.  Christian is more
than a little excited about all of this.  It really is amazing what
can transpire over a Cohiba, a laptop, a glass of rum, and an
afternoon without obligations.

Oh, and Antigua is beautiful.  It looks and feels like the physical
manifestation of a General Foods International Coffee advertisement.
The city is much older than the US and much of the original
architecture is preserved.  It’s a colonial town that looks not unlike
the French Quarter, up high enough that the nights are chilly and
thick comforters are in wide use, and surrounded by very nearby
mountains at least one of which is actively volcanic.  The streets are
cobblestone, for god’s sake.

From here I’ll probably go to some party town on the lake, much to my
liver’s chagrin.  Rumor of my evacuation from Utila has reached has
reached said liver, who is answering my calls again.  He’d begun
screening them after continuing disagreements and a bit
of a falling out on the island, mostly over peak performance
throughput and his modest performance goals.  Christian has agreed to
teach me to surf if I go with him to El Salvador (the beaches are
supposed to be amazing, unspoiled, and safe), and I’ve got some time to
kill, so that may come to pass as well.

Plans continue to form for post-Panamanian travel and South America
looks like the big winner.  I’m likely to hike the Incan Trail to
Macchu Picchu with my second hikingest friend Dan, choose a few other
spots to explore, and spend a good few weeks or month in Buenos Aries.
I’ll tack on Santiago if I have the money.

Utila is still on my mind, though, and also on the tongues of many of
the people I meet.  Chris repeatedly mentioned with seeming sincerity
that Utila as a very special place and I can’t help but compare.  I
miss the kind of town where you’re minding you own business, talking
up some girl at a all-you-can-drink 150 limpera barbecue when your
divemaster from the haliburton deep dive the day before starts
pounding on a drum (where the fuck did he get a drum?) and that French
brunette you’ve been chatting up excuses herself politely, picks up
two can on chains, lights them, and begins fire-dancing for the crowd
while throwing winks and smiles (beautiful, radiant smiles that defy
the kerosene’s yellow light and gleam their whitest) at you from
between swinging orbs of fire.

And the Chili Peppers are always being played within earshot,
everywhere, every day.

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