Last time, Guatemala was different. It was long, it was on a student budget, it was sleeping in places for USD1.50 (incl. hot water!), it was eating in the cheapest places, it was long hours on busses where every hole in the road would translate directly into pain in lower parts of your body, discussions with locals and sharing of seats with chickens (big ones, or baby ones, in cardboard boxes with breathing holes in it). Antigua, Lago de Atitlan, Finca Ixobel, Tikal, Puerto Barrios, Livingston, Rio Dulce. It was full of colours, time and marvelling. It was my second long trip in Latin America and I felt like an explorer. I was 21. It was the rainy season, backpacks on top of the busses drenched, feet in streams running down the roads in the highlands. Guatemala City: avoided.

This time, it is Guatemala City most of the time.
Security phase 3.On the 18th floor of a fancy hotel where one night costs as much as what I spent for accommodation on my entire last trip. It’s big windows, it’s seeing the lights of the city change in the evening, it’s traffic, it’s the airport at a few hundred meters away, in the centre. It’s for work, it’s a less colourful ambiente, the capital is grey, the mountains in the not so far distance invisible almost all the time.

It’s still a place full of lovely people.

It’s a place where old men sell poetry at the red lights, neatly packaged.

The direction of the rain changed. It hits the windows.
18 floors down, in the dark, the cars move faster than usual.
The rain makes people rush.
It’s a Monday, somewhere on the way to winter, which in theory is summer.
I wonder if the old man is selling his poetry tonight.
Then, the storm is over.
Everything slowed down.
The hills in the distance appear.

And a  small escape to Antigua.
Volcanoes all around.
Stoned streets.
Clouds, towered.
Just before the rain. Storms that never come.
Conventos. Earthquakes.
The glory of times passed a long time ago.
And just as beautiful as I remembered her.

After a few windowless days, we drive towards the Pacific Coast.
Sugar plantations. Reforestation, conservation, explications. It’s a different field trip than the one to the Sahel. It’s green, it’s lush, it’s fields, it’s corpporate, it’s a little universe on its own.
Driving down roads between the mountains and the ocean.
Behind camionetas with people on the Ladefläche, wind in their hair.
Cows on the road and uminpressed dogs.

And then Tikal.
A tiny place, and in less than an hour we’re in the North. Jungle.
The ruins are still ruined, but it’s different than nine years ago.
Different paths.
Different ways up.
Some closed. And the fact that it is now forbidden to climb up one of the steepest temples is a good excuse, cause last time I thought I’d die. 55m high and a ladder at close to 90°m, up up. Going up was scary, but going down really freaked me out. Yes, the view from above was amazing. But.
We don’t see a jaguar and we don’t see a tucan, but it’s ok.
We sweat an estimated 10 litres and, a little sun burnt, we return to the capital.

And it’s the end of this time.

(Pictures to follow :))

The farmer by Laura Spannenberg
The farmer, a photo by Laura Spannenberg on Flickr.

Some visual impressions from my recent trip to Burkina…

Leaving Ouagadougou.

Dust, all over.
A few sad baobabs.
Donkey crossing.
Bicycles, motor bikes, people on foot.
A goat on a rock.
It’s grey.
Trying to find some hints of my previous Africa experiences.
But even the colourful fabrics are covered in the ever present orangebrown dust and seen through the dusty window of the bus, they almost blen in perfectly with the landscape.
Fading presences.
It’s dry.
Hard to imagine that even a single drop of water ever touched or will touch this soil.

Things I think about on an average (Monday til Sun)day:

If I should stop reading so many books from Japanese authors and maybe switch to something else. Latin American writers. Or maybe Eastern European?
Where to go on my next trip.
What to buy from the market for a dinner with friends on my terrace.
If my clothes are nice enough for the office
If I should become a vegetarian again.
When to start learning Arabic.
If I should decrease my muffin consumption.
If I keep in touch enough with my old friends in other parts of the world when I’m not with them.
If I’ve taken the right choices.
What those letters and numbers on the run ways at the airport mean.
How many mangoes I can eat in 10 days
How to find out what I want to do when I’m grown up. And how to get there.
If my plane will leave on time.
How warm it will be in Sicily around Easter.
If I should buy a bike.
When to go on the Mozambique-South Africa-Namibia road trip.
What to wear tomorrow.

What people I met on this Monday think about, on an average day:

When it will rain and how much and for how long and how much food they will have at the end of the season.

Obviously they also think about other things, but certainly not about when to go to Pompi the next time.
And obviously it’s not the first time I think about rains, harvests and getting a meal on the table.
And obviously it’s not the first time that I feel extremely privileged to have the things (and useless stuff) I have. I do appreciate all of that every night I go to sleep. Butt his dusty, extreme nothingness place really struck me. Driving miles and miles through orangebrownish oblivion, a bicycle driving past every now and then, kids seemingly coming out of nowhere, going nowhere, make my thoughts wander. You have this feeling that’s hard to describe. The sensation of understanding what project reports in your office can’t transmit. And you go back with a strange sensation of wanting to ask somebody how there’s life in places like these, knowing that it’s a stupid question and that there’s no one to ask.

All the other days in the capital are sleepless, with fresh mangoes every day, aloco, friendly people from all over West Africa, markets, talks on other parts of the world and how life is as it is, on aging invisibly and not enough water bottles.
Things seem to work just fine, but only on the outside. I constantly have to decide whether I want to have the computer plugged in or light in the room. You pay for something, and get something else. But it somehow all works out, in the end, as always. No surprises. Apart from the coup d’etat in Mali which left everybody with an open mouth and four of the group stranded in Burkina.

On the way back, at the international airport in Ouaga, the red letters blink as if programmed by a three year old or a student who’s learning how to use the special effects in PowerPoint. It’s one of these tiny little memories you take back from your trips. The ones not worth telling. Or taking a picture of. But that get stuck, somehow.
The plane stops again in Niamey, and after more people get onboard, it drives to the beginning of the runway, turns around in circles, and takes off. Leaving Africa, again.

Definitely an enriching experience on many levels. And again: life is good.

(Pictures will follow on Flickr)