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Chimaltenango and its Hospitality

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The following is a short true story I wrote for my friends in the States.

I was asking myself, “How in the world did I find myself here?” Here being on the side of the busy Pan American Highway in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. It is cold, with a wind whipping the dust and exhaust as I stand near the edge of the road, next to a filling station that seemingly services mostly commercial vehicles traveling to and from the City.

I had arrived in Guatemala City, Guatemala around 1:30 pm today after my flight was delayed in Atlanta by more than an hour. My ride had waited for me for 30 minutes at the Guatemala airport, but had finally departed thinking I had missed the flight. Luckily, my shuttle director, Miguel Tzul, of Toliman Tours, had known that I had not missed my flight and would be arriving at some point. Knowing this, he had sent a private taxi to wait for me and take me to Antigua, where I was to take the 4:00 pm Atitrans shuttle into Panajachel, where I live.

The taxi ride to Antigua was an easy trip and I was happy to be heading toward Panajachel and my home. I have been living in Guatemala now for several years, enjoying the mostly pleasant weather and meeting retirees like me who are seeking a less complicated way of life.

When I arrived in Antigua, I was informed that the shuttle run to Panajachel had been cancelled because of lack of customers, and that there was no other shuttle going to Pana that day. Panic! How was I going to get to Pana with all my luggage (4 bags and some odds and ends) by nightfall. Of course zi could have opted for a room at one of the many hotels, but I was anxious to be home and not face another day on the road. Again I phoned my shuttle guy and explained the situation. He told me to sit tight and he would figure something out. He called back some time later and said that he had arranged for a local taxi to take me out to the highway and drop me off where another shuttle, direct from the City, would pick me up in no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. At this point I had been in Antigua for almost 3 hours and was glad to be finally moving in the right direction again.

And so… here I am, several hours later. It is now dark and traffic is busy, trucks and “chicken buses” racing past to wherever they are going;… and it is getting colder. The fifteen to twenty minute wait is long past, and it has now been almost two hours since I had spoken with Miguel. I am standing here shivering in the wind, worried that I may have to spend the night at the entrance to a filling station.

There is a taco stand next to me and the owner has been doing a brisk business selling strange looking tacos and burritos to workers getting off the “chicken buses” heading home after a long day. My cell phone is now dead and I have to borrow a phone from one of his customers to once again call my shuttle guy. He thinks I have been picked up already and should be almost to Pana. HAH! I inform him that the shuttle never arrived and he tells me that he will find out the problem and will call me back. Another long wait.

Now comes the real story. While I have been standing here in the cold, a man has walked by twice and we have nodded and exchanged the traditional “ Holas”. He is not aware of my stranded situation, but knows that I must be cold. He stops and asks me if I have a jacket or coat, to which I have to tell him no, as I left all my cold weather clothes in Atlanta. He disappears and a few minutes later returns with a really nice jacket for me and then asks if I would like some hot coffee to warm myself up, to which I reply with a resounding “Yes”! Within minutes, he, his wife and his two children return with a steaming cup of coffee. Introductions are made and I find out his name is Ricardo and his wife is Elena, who speaks very good English and is able to translate for me. His two children are Ricardo, Jr. and his little girl is Arabella. Ricardo it turns out, is a local real estate man who knows the area well and lives nearby. He invites me in out of the cold and into his nearby home. Once again, before accepting, I borrow his cell phone and I call my shuttle guy, who has been on the phone, desperately trying to get me to my home in Pana before Christmas. He tells me to wait at the filling station another 15 minutes as he has found a shuttle driver in Antigua, who is scheduled to take a tour group out the next morning. The driver lives in Pana and has agreed to go back there tonight just to drop me off, returning to Antigua early the next morning to meet his 6:00 am tour group. And so, after a wonderful cup of coffee and a nice chat with Ricardo and Elena, the new driver arrives and finally I am on the way again.

I must say that throughout this day of missed connections, missing drivers, cold, cold wind and waiting roadside on the Pan American Highway, there are many good things that occurred. My shuttle guy, Miguel, came through in the end, pulling strings and calling in favors to make sure I would not be stranded on the road. (It turns out that the shuttle coming from the City had gotten stuck behind traffic due to an accident on the highway and did not arrive in Panajachel until the wee hours of the next morning.) The new, driver, Rolando, who finally saved me from the discomfort of a possible night of unknowns on the street, drives the route between Antigua and Panajachel every day, and knows the route extremely well, and speeds me on my way to a rest and a long nights sleep in my own bed.

The really great thing that happened on my latest adventure of course, was meeting Ricardo and his wife, Elena. It is well known that Guatemalans are a friendly folk who are very hospitable, especially to strangers, but their kindness went way beyond the accustomed “welcome to our country” sort of thing. No good deed should go without some recognition and gratitude.

I will remember this adventure, not for the mishaps and anxiety, but for the wonderfully kind family in Chimaltenango who offered me their friendship and were willing to share their home, clothing and a warming drink; and I would be remiss if kudos were not given to my shuttle guy, Miguel, who went way beyond the bounds of duty to make sure that I arrived at my home, tired and cold, but not down and out.