Subject: Re: Guatemala
John & Frank:

I can't add too much to this discussion about Guatemala, altho I've been 3 times & am ready for my 4th visit in Feb '06. Two of my trips have been on a medical mission when we work mostly 18 hours a day! Also, most of our team of 80 docs & nurses are not the most experienced or savvy of travelers, so team leaders discourage or even prohibit independent exploration. That said, I generally head down a few days before our mission or stay later to visit with friends I've made there & move around by myself without any more than normal caution I'd use in any place. I take buses, shuttles or lake ferries as need be & have felt perfectly comfortable. I frankly think my ease with Spanish & my age are significant contributors: at 64, I am almost "invisible" in many ways. A topic for another time!

My first visit involved the border crossing from Belize into Guatemala on the way to Tikal. It was a little dicey, as it was my darling d-i-l's first non-Europe, non- Oz experience, but my son is a great big guy & we avoided a potentially difficult situation. The border officials wanted to split us up & take us into different rooms in a little hut individually for "processing". I politely said "no" & we were whisked through together.

We did stay in an ecolodge near Tikal & I can't for the life of me find the name. It was spendy & worth it: we sat under a thatch roof in the marvelous rain watching the lake & I think it was 15 min or so to Tikal itself. We left everything but the clothes on our backs with a wonderful guide we met. I can't recall the economic circumstances in CA (this was about 9 years ago), but he was struggling to care for his family & tourism was down. I don't know why it surprises me to find the interesting folks we always bump into: he was from Honduras & his wife from Goa, yes, India!

On our most recent trip to the Yucatan 2 weeks ago, we used an ecotour company for some daytripping (more coming on this trip) & our guide one day was the first Lancandon (Maya) from Chiapas I'd met. The Maya of CA are quite distinct from one another due to the years of rainforest isolation & the indigenous who come to our clinic are Kakchiquel, Chiquel & Mam. Altho they live scant 200 miles from the Lancandon, the differences are striking. I felt so lucky to spend several hours talking with Jorge about his childhood & the growing trans-Maya initiatives. A recent Maya conference brought indigenous from all over the region to what sounded like an incredible experience as they shared music, stories & language. Jorge was very excited about the future for young Maya men. What a difference from even 10 years ago when villages were consistently victimized by roving bands of thugs.

I, too, am hooked on CA, past, present & future. I love clambering around the ruins, learning about Maya life today & thinking about where the culture is going. I may just have to put on the huipil (embroidered blouse) given to me by a grateful patient last year. It was her grandmother's: basically red with multi-colored woven stripes, all overlaid with gorgeous embroidered flowers around the neck & sleeves. It takes me right back to Guatemala without leaving the home!

Gail In Eugene