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Our "Summer" Travels To South America, Part 5

Today, we are in Guatemala. Tomorrow we are at sea and we cross the Equator. The following day we will reach Ecuador.

By Armando F. Sanchez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: February 14, 2013

Our "Summer" Travels To South America, Part 5

As I was in line to get breakfast on the ship and a man shared with the lady behind him that it was going to be a warm day sine it was going to be around 80 degrees outside. The lady just smiled and told him that when she left home a week ago and it was -23 degrees. It seems that the majority of our fellow passengers are from cold climate regions throughout the world.

Many passengers are traveling from Los Angeles, down and around So. America with final destination being New York City. What many have done is traveled for the 2 months and avoided the prime winter months altogether. The weather to date has been pleasant. It's been around the 80s once we left Cabo San Lucas and heading south.

We arrived to Guatemala. It's our first time here. The port was tiny. Four ships were here and one of them was a US Coast Guard. We disembarked and took a tour bus to the town of Antigua. The bus trip took about an hour and a half each way. Many roads are one lane so commercial traffic made traveling slow.

This side of the country, as opposed to the Atlantic side, is mainly agriculture. We saw sugar cane and coffee plantations. Antigua is a very small historical town. It's nestled in a mountainous area between 4 volcanoes. One is nearby, active and spewing some smoke. Apparently the country has 37 volcanoes and 6 are currently active.

Antigua was the combination of early Spanish (1500s) buildings and the majority in town was tourist and indigenous Mayan people. Guatemala is said to be the birthplace of the Mayan culture. Mayan women sell their wares throughout the town. Mayans currently make up about 60% of the country's population. Mayans speak different dialects according to their region. The ones in town also spoke Spanish and some even English.

We walked around town for a couple of hours and then started back to the ship. Some passengers asked me how the indigenous learned to be such good negotiators in the prices of the items. I remembered that the Mayans were business and trade negotiators with their Aztecs/Toltecas to the north and the Incas to the south. They have been in a strategic commercial trading zone for thousands of years.

The recent political history is a setting of multiple change of governments between civilian and military leaders. It has also experienced a 36-year guerrilla war (civil war from 1960-1996). The country is currently still ruled by approximately 300 families. It's probably the same number of elite ruling families in the US except that since this is a small country their control is more closely felt and is a delicate issue for those that live here.

For example, Guatemala is the native country of Rigoberta Menchu Tum. She is Mayan and a Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1992. She works tirelessly on behalf of indigenous people. She has received many death threats in Guatemala and has thus continued to live in exile.

In talking with locals one can sense the dislike for the current political ruling class and then they move on to other topics. It's a common situation around the world. Few families control and rule the country for generations, maintain a very small and educated middle class and the majority of the population is impoverished. This high disproportions ratio of economic haves and have nots in Guatemala is at the same levels as living with so many volcanoes in a small region. Which one will blow up first in the future?

Tomorrow we are at sea and we cross the Equator. The following day we will reach Ecuador.

Since we are out at sea we will join a line dance class, stop by the library and then our spa hour. Before dinner we are meeting with Richard and have some pre-dinner cocktails. He is a electronic patent lawyer living in Wyoming. He is going (slowly) to New York for his meetings. Because of the Internet and connections on the ship means he can mix business with pleasure. We also met another fellow passenger who is an investment consultant and for him the ship is also his office.

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