I have been thinking hard about how to blog about Guatemala. It has been one of the most important places we have visited. Guatemala worked its way into our hearts; going from ‘what did we get ourselves into’ to ‘we don’t want to leave’. It is an amazing and unique country with an incredible mix of old and new working together simultaneously. So I decided not to post chronological stories about what we did and where we went, but rather to try to make you understand why we fell in love and cannot wait to return next summer.
I have sorted my thoughts and pictures into these general categories: craziness, cruisers, history, nature, people, and uniqueness. I may end up with more, but for now I want to start by taking a look at the people of Guatemala. The video above is a quick glimpse. Nearly 40% of the population are indigenous people of Mayan descent. The rest is a mix of mestizo (mix of Latino European and Amerindian) and European. About 60% of the population speaks Spanish and the rest speak at least 23 different Amerindian languages. I saw this personally when I stopped by a roadside shop and ordered in Spanish. The guy had no idea what I was talking about. That was when I realized how prominent the different Mayan-based languages were. Don’t worry this blog isn’t going to be a load of boring facts. I just wanted to set the stage for our encounters.
The kids are incredible. They run, jump and play just like kids everywhere — except more so because they are not on cell phones or iPads. Everything becomes a game — jumping out of a cayuco into the river…
…sliding on slippery cement and using plastic cups to pour water…
…playing tag or hide and seek in the yard. I love watching them and hearing their giggles. Sometimes I can speak with them and sometimes I can’t, but a smile and wave are universal.
However, Guatemala is a culture of child labor. As soon as the children are old enough to work, they are busy with jobs and may or may not go to school. As a first world citizen, I cannot approve of this but who do you get mad at? The parents were raised the same way and their parents, etc. Big corporations like Dole and Chiquita use child labor in the fields. I can get mad at the corporations, but the families require the income. Therefore, if Dole doesn’t hire them they have to find work elsewhere. So should I really get mad at the corporations? Maybe I should be mad at the government? The government could make child labor illegal. Well, it has already, sort of. Forced or compulsory child labor is illegal, but they do not take away the families right to put their children to work. A cultural revolution is necessary to make a change.
Young girls start balancing loads on their heads. I’ve seen as young as five or six year olds carrying head loads. Seeing the children working makes me cheer all the more when I see the children playing and generally acting like children.
I am sure if I saw this boy earlier or later, the bicycle would have been loaded with wood or something. I’m not sure if he could even ride it. I suppose he would have been riding it if he could have.
We met these boys at a quetzal reserve and eco lodge. The woman that runs the place is teaching them all about the birds and the environment they live in, training them to be future guides for tourists.
I do approve of this program. These kids are being given an education, taught to read and speak English, and given a trade to support themselves and their families. She plays educational games with them and makes learning fun. I could tell the boys were all very excited and happy to be there. The boys named in English to Jayne from Delphinus every single bird pictured on their shirts. Kudos to those people helping to make a positive difference.
Men still live their lives in old school fashion. Cowboys and sheep or cattle herders ride horses for work and to commute.
I don’t know the statistics on how many people own vehicles, but it is very common to see pack horses or mules in service.
Then there are those who must carry their own loads. I’ve also seen women and children carrying loads strapped to their heads.
The Mayan people still use cayucos (dugout canoes) powered by paddles or oars and fish with finger lines, traps or nets. No outboards or fishing rods here. Mestizos may have outboards, but I can’t recall seeing anyone using fishing rods.
Typical Mayan homes are made of wood with thatched roofs. This type of home is seen more inland on farms or plantations. Living conditions are rough and primitive. All that wood they were carrying? It is used in the kitchen for cooking! Mind you, it might be 90°F and 80-90% humidity and the women are cooking over open fires in an enclosed space.
Speaking of women, they don’t have it easy either. Without cars, they walk everywhere and carry everything. They raise the children and work at various jobs. In the video some were making tortillas. This is huge in Guatemala and tortillerias are everywhere.
Here an opportunistic woman took advantage of her proximity to Agua Caliente, the hot waterfall, a tourist attraction. She collects coconuts and sells them to tourists for fresh coconut water.
Even when they do get a ride, it is in a collectivo or shared vehicle that is usually overcrowded and extremely uncomfortable. There are no shortcuts and no easy ways out. These are hard working people that I have a lot of respect for, even if their children are working. If anyone thinks of a brilliant way to change an entire culture and bring adequate income to the families without child labor PLEASE share your ideas! My life would have been worth living if I could figure out the key to helping developing countries live easier lives and educate all their children. That being said, these people seem happy and content and who are we to change things?