Sunday, December 30, 2012

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala - pushy salesmen

Today the ship was in Guatemala, in Puerto Quetzal.  I can’t say that I saw much of the country.  We got up fairly late, at 8 or so, had a gentle breakfast with several lovely conversations, then, finally, got ourselves ready to go.  We caught the red and white shuttle bus from the ship to the visitors’ center.  That was a tall round building with a grass hut-style roof.  In it were 2 xylophones, a couple of tourist destination desks, and a post office counter – something very, very welcome for American tourists!  It’s been very difficult to find post offices.  Our friend Roxana took us to a private post office in Lima where it cost us over $2 each to mail post cards.  We weren’t able to buy stamps because they didn’t have them in that particular post office – we would have had to have gone to the airport to actually buy stamps!  In other countries, we haven’t even been able to find the post office, so we considered ourselves very lucky just to find one in Lima! 
Anyway, past the tourist office building, we happened into the glare of strong sunlight and 100’s of artisan’s booths.  It was high season for tourists with 3 ships docked in port today, and morning was the best time.  All the artisans were ready and waiting for us.  Frequently heard phrases: “What you want, Madam?”  “Special price.  Just for you.”  “Jade.  Necklace.  Earrings.  Bracelet.”  “Me make just for you.”  “Bolsa.  Bag.  T Shirt.  Mask from jade.  Jewelry for you, Madam.”  “Special price.”  “Just for you.”  “You want table runner?  Placemats, napkins?”  “Me make, me and my family, many things.  For you.”
They were more aggressive than in any other port we went to.  There were many beautiful items, particularly the woven cloth which is as colorful and beautiful as it appears in pictures I have in my mind of Guatemala.  Interestingly, the items were only 14” or so wide.  I could only find 2-3 tablecloths that were woven.  Primarily they sold table runners which were either woven or embroidered.  I should have taken some pictures, but I think if I had, I would have been accosted even more than I was.  I couldn’t walk past a booth without 1-2 people coming up to me to ask me what I wanted and to show me things.  I didn't want to be rude and ignore them, but I found it really bothersome to be accosted like that. 
Bargaining was de rigueur.  $40 for a table runner turned into an offer of $20 when I turned away from the price.  I would have bought it but I completely ran out of money today.  I brought about $400 in cash with me on the journey, thinking I’d be able to use my Visa card most of the time, but, in fact, I haven’t been able to use it at all, and today that $400 ran out completely.  Well, no, that’s not quite true – I have $2 in cash.  The small merchants and artisans from whom I’ve been buying souvenirs simply don’t take Visa.  I could have gotten money from an ATM machine today, but I didn't know how much I’d want, and I didn’t particularly want any Guatemalan money left over, so I chose to simply run out.  My suitcases will be glad that they won’t be even more crammed with stuff!
When I get to the port in San Diego, I’ll have to find an ATM machine so I have some money to pay the taxi driver so I can get to the airport.  In the meantime, I’ll have to entertain myself for free!
Beautiful things I saw today:  the handwoven material was nice, not extremely well-made, but the colors were beautiful.  I saw a woman doing the weaving.  It was very interesting learning how it’s done, and I understand why the items are narrow – the looms are portable.  She had hers tied around a tree then around her waist.  She was sitting on the ground on her knees with her bottom on her feet – I don’t know if that description makes sense or not.  It didn’t look comfortable to me, but I think she’d been doing it a long time.  She had a pattern she was using which was cross stiched on a piece of white cloth.  She would refer to it each time she did a new line.  I need to take a weaving class one of these days so I can actually learn how weaving works – I sort of understand it but don’t really get it. 
There was a lot of jade jewelry to be found.  Jade used to be quite rare, but a couple of decades ago, an American woman whose name I don’t remember, went on a search to find the Mayan treasure trove of jade.  She eventually found the mother lode and now jade seems to be ubiquitous.  Mostly there were shades of green, but they also had lavender, black, and almost white.  White is the purest.  Green shows there is copper mixed in.  The more transparent it is, the better quality it is.  I didn’t see any that was particularly good quality. 
There was also a lot of silver jewelry, with stones or not.  The coins used to be out of pure silver.  One artisan had used the coins for their silver.  I bought a necklace from him which is quite beautiful and unique.  He told me it was $20.  At that point, I only had $7 total to my name.  He talked himself into selling it to me for $7.  Heavy silver, 100’s of links chained together so it spirals around.  It’s wonderfully made.  I felt bad spending only $7 on it, but that’s truly all I had.
There was also a lot of turquoise and coral.  I wanted to buy a heavy, beautiful turquoise and coral necklace for my mother, but I didn’t have the money, and the guy didn’t take Visa.  Sorry, Mom!  It was a handsome piece.
There were jade masks as well.  They were copies of funeral masks found in Mayan tombs.  They were interesting historically but not anything I would enjoy looking at on a daily basis.
It was interesting watching my cravings come and go as I explored the different stalls.  Many of the items were quite wonderful.  And the aggressive salesmanship was very distasteful.  I guess I should be thankful for the balance, or I would have had to have bought another suitcase too!
I have enjoyed looking at art in the different countries, but unfortunately I haven’t found any which I consider very skillfully done.  Most of it is kitchy, along the lines of Bob Ross, or a certain style of abstraction of the draped figure which I sort of like, but which just isn’t well done.  I wasn’t able to find any galleries to see art done by practicing artists with a style that goes beyond the touristic.  That’s a bit disappointing.  I also haven’t done much art myself.  I look forward to getting home and taking the time to work up some pieces there.  I have done some seascapes and plan to do more tomorrow.  While I’m living on the ocean, I certainly want to take advantage of it and paint it!
This afternoon I came back to the ship in time for lunch since I didn’t have money to get it out among the stalls.  I thought about going back out and taking advantage of the wifi offered in various places but instead got enthralled in a conversation with a lovely man from Sacramento who has a warm and wonderful twinkle in his eye and peace emanating from his heart.  I learned today that he does Tai Chi and Qi Jong every morning.  That doesn’t surprise me.  He has a beautiful energy.  It’s been so special learning about different people on board.  There are 100’s of fascinating stories.  I wish I could have heard each and every one.
Gerlinde and I realized today that it’s starting to feel like the trip is coming to an end.  This was our next to last foreign port.  The “lasts” are starting to happen with alarming frequency.  Part of me is looking forward to getting home and seeing Chris and spending time with the kids before they head off for China and Germany again.  And part of me wants to stop time so I can treasure each moment I’m underway.  It’s good practice for living in the moment.
This evening the staff is doing a talent show.  I’m going to get myself ready now to go to it and see what these kind, wonderful, generous folks have to offer.  I can’t imagine what talents they have to offer, but it will be fun to find out!  I’ve been moved by the kindness and good humor of the people who take care of us.  Don, our Steward, smiles broadly every single time I see him.  He makes out beds and cleans our bathrooms each day, giving us fresh towels.  He also straightens our stacks of books and papers each day.  Then, in the evening, he pulls down our covers and gets the beds ready for the night.  It’s the greatest kindness I can imagine.  When I was ill and in isolation, Don brought me my meals, always thoughtfully chosen and arranged.  It was lovely seeing his smiling face several times a day and did much to help me get well quickly. 
The waiters in the dining room are also extraordinary.  They smile and sing and bring us water or juice and silverware.  They ask how we’re doing.  They offer us kindnesses.  Most of them are from the Philippines and work about 8 months at a stretch before getting to see their families again.  Last year Semester at Sea was supposed to dock in the Philippines for a visit, but there was some sort of State Department injunction against it, so, at the last minute, they didn’t.  I can’t imagine how disappointed the crew members much have been to not be able to see their wives and children after so many months away.  And still they smile and are kind.  I’ve learned much about service from Don and these other wonderful men and women.  Kindness is such a gift.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Susan, I'm enjoying your travelogue esp your experiences aboard the ship. The pushy sales thing seems to be true in every third world country.....the worst I found was in India with little kids following me constantly on the street, and really sad objects for sale. Jonathan has some interesting stories about this happening in Morocco....but it's sobering to realize that this is how so many people in the world make their livlihoods. Hope you enjoy the "last" of everything and stay in the moment. I can't wait to see you and hear all about everything! HUGS! Peggy