Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Earthquake, Hawkers, New Friends, and Church

Joe and I were sitting at the dining room table eating another delicious meal cooked by Grandma Elaina. She was visiting from the sink where she is doing dishes (she seems to live in the kitchen or on the roof hanging clothes to dry). I heard a bus approach while I thought at the same time buses don’t come up our street. It came closer. I heard and felt the vibration of the base stereo, which was impossible. Then the table began to shake and the house shook. An earthquake! Joe and I stared at each other in stunned silence for a split second. What do people do here in an earthquake we wondered as it built in intensity. Just that day Joe had told me about some photos he’d seen of ruins here after the 1976 quake.

The exterior walls remained standing but roofs caved in. Suddenly Grandma yelled “Terramoto! and sprinted out the front door. Joe and I were hot on her heals. I figured I’m going wherever she goes! Seconds later the whole neighborhood was standing outside in the court in a tight little group with us right in the middle. Telephone poles and trees swayed. It was a 6.5 a couple of hours drive away in San Marcus. For the next two days that’s all anyone spoke about . . . what were you doing when the quake hit? 20 people were injured in the capital because they frantically ran out into the streets in front of cars.

We met a man here named Lex. Lex is a bit of an enigma. He is the wealthy son of diplomatic parents from Italy and Spain. He is probably independently wealthy beyond my comprehension. We met him at our favorite wine bar “Wine and Cigars”. Last week he discovered that I’d brought wine from California. When he heard that I had Modus Operandi he began the bargaining process. Ultimately we ended up at his villa with another couple from Spain, two cousins from the Capital and Fernando (recently moved to Antigua). It was a stunning place with at least six rooms and two gardens in the ancient extremely exclusive part of town. Its not actually where he lives. He lives in a house he designed.  
We chowed on cheese, salami and banana chips and drank wine and whiskey (not us), as he explained his vision for this property. It is to be a place for wealthy/famous men to come to recover privately from various restorative surgeries. I don’t know very many people like that, but he does. 
I couldn’t take any photos of him because he recently got a lead part in a movie and isn’t allowed to be in photos willingly, especially in his home. He let me take a few pics of the house though. He is very interested in playing the lead bad guy in my second book when it becomes a movie. He’s a gorgeous, elegant man, so he’d be perfect.

We found a fabulous church here called El Camino. The service is in Spanish and English. There are a ton of ex-pats there who are so friendly. We met a great couple from the states that move every six months to a new country. She works via Skype, so the world is her office. We’re gonna hook up with them Wednesday.
I’ve become buddies with another writer, Marlayna, but she’s actually successful. Super-adorable little blonde bombshell. The guys just stutter when she enters the room. She writes memoires of her life, and has coined the term Nomadic Memoirist. She’s been traveling abroad for over a year. She just arrived from Dominican Republic. Her current book is about some of the insane dates she’s been on. I’m sure she has tons of material.
Our little house-poodle, Gordo (Fatty) got a haircut. Now we call him Flaco (skinny). Dogs look hilarious after a close haircut. Sort of embarrassed, like they don’t have their clothes on. 
I’ve turned the tables on my Spanish teacher. For the last 30 minutes of class we practice English. It is so funny. She just dreads it! She always pretending to be suddenly sick, or quacking in fear. It’s great to put her in the hot seat, but I am actually still learning Spanish.
At school everyday we have a snack/potty break. All of the vendors know this, so they line up outside the doors. One guy sells nuts. He has all kinds, but I’m completely addicted to the candy coated peanuts. They taste exactly like the peanuts in Cracker Jacks. I get a baggy for a buck fifty. Heavenly.
We booked a room for Marvin and Evelyn to stay here in Antigua one night for their honeymoon. They got money donations to get enough money for gas and his brother loaned them his car. We took them out to dinner last night at Luna de Miel (the honeymoon restaurant with crepes), and today I had by first hamburger since leaving the states. It was exceptionally yummy.

One of the most difficult things for me to deal with here is the constant begging or sales pitching. Jewelry, beautiful fabrics, masks and flutes are the standard street merchants. These people are relentless and do not take no for an answer. The stores are almost as bad, making it uncomfortable to shop with someone breathing down your neck. When walking down the street children come up with their pitiful eyes, and a handful of merchandise, pulling on your sleeve. We have become buddies with a few of the adults.
Juan the peanut dude, Mario the flute guy, Martin the other flute guy, and Ana the table runner lady. Joe always says “Manana”. “Okay Pepe, Manana!” Of course manana arrives with the same response. Now they’re on to him. I always say “No, Gracias”, and keep walking. Yesterday we ran into Mario and shook hands and I got my obligatory cheek kiss. He introduced us to his friend “These are my American friends; Senor Manana and Senora No Gracias.” Man, we thought that was so funny. Great sense of humor. A note to those of you planning to come to Guatemala; bargaining is not their strong point. All you have to do is stare with admiration at what you want to buy. Walk away and return right away. Stare some more. During this very simple process they will drop the price about every 10 seconds. Don’t say anything, just look wistful. Joe bought me a purse because he couldn’t handle the price dropping any lower (a hand embroidered bag on traditional indigenous cloth).

Some healthy looking teenage boys made the mistake of trying to beg from me. “I’m hungry, Lady.” “Go home and eat.” “I live on the other side of town, Lady.” “So do I.” “But you can give me some money or buy this (ugly) bracelet.” “I don’t want the bracelet and I’m not giving you money. Go home.” They stood indecisively for a moment and left with a friendly wave. Later a gaggle of uniformed girls gathered around Marlayna and I for an impromptu English session. Sometimes I get sick of standing out like a Gringa, but it’s simply unavoidable. Maybe that’s why foreigners tend to hang out together at the wine bar.
Last but not least is Santa Domingo. This is a huge majestic ruin which has been restored to a 5 star hotel and museum. They built the resort around the ruins without disturbing them. The church stands in the original spot, but mostly outdoors amongst the massive pillars. Giant parrots hang out on low trees posing for photos.
A wedding here starts at 10 grand US dollars. They own another restaurant and hotel up the mountain. A free shuttle takes you up the impossibly steep hill past all of the trucks and cars that couldn’t make the haul. We went with our teachers for a class excursion. Instead of going to the museum there, we talked them into sitting out on the patio over-hanging Antigua and having a cup of coffee
J If nothing else, I am consistent.


  1. Love your description of local events and so glad you were not hurt in the earthquake.

  2. I visited Santo Domingo as well! Very cool!

  3. For those of you who are waiting for my second novel "El Tiburon", these blogs about Antigua strongly influence my writing. El Tiburon takes place in Antigua and sadly the garbage dump in Guatemala City.