Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Give You a Very Good Price - $1.00

Our hotel in Antigua is delightful. There are only about fourteen rooms; ours has a view of the volcano and the neighbor’s lovely garden below. At first, I thought the walls were strangely painted by children, but later in the day, I noticed that this must be a style here. Our room walls look like the plaster was steamed with moisture when painted creating streaked color with lots of white showing through. It is childlike, minimalistic, simplistic, and charming all in one.

Breakfast is not included here, but there is free tea, instant coffee, and local bread-type items to munch on when you crawl downstairs. We are both sore and crawling takes more flexibility than either of us are feeling today. So much for Pilates and yoga lessons before we left. 

However, there is a city to be seen. Most of the buildings are only 2 floors and they all look alike with the exception of colors. Once you leave the hotel, it is necessary to recognize landmarks to find your way back. At the end of our street is a psychologist and massage therapist: head and body care. Less than a block is the cathedral making a complete package.
One of our first chores was to get money. Everyone loves American dollars, but in reality you lose since the exchange rate changes all of the time, but they hold to the exchange of 7 to 8 Quetzals to the dollar, which may or may not be in your favor. We had taken some American dollars out of the ATM in Miami, but the machine had a limit of $250 per day, so that is all we could coax out of it. This turned out to be a good thing, but we used a part of it to pay our driver from the airport.

Prior to coming, Ron read a number of horror stories about using ATMs here in Guatemala. Crooks gain your ATM card number and code and then wipe your account clean. Being a different country, it is difficult to get restitution. We attempted to get a disposable ATM card before coming, but the timing did not work out in our favor. 

Once here, we were told that some banks have tightened up controls and the ATMs are now safe at BAM bank only. We went to the tourism agency next to the bank to book a walking tour, but were discouraged from using the ATM regardless of the bank. This created a whole new process for us. We had to use the agents inside the bank, but the line was ten deep. Fortunately, there was an American sitting waiting. She told us that the Colombians bought all of the banks in the country, thus making it unsafe to use ATMs anywhere. To get cash without the ATM machine, you had to have your ATM card, passport and a second photo ID.  I don’t carry ID with me, so we had to leave and return later. 

Luck was with us. There was no one in the bank, so we were cared for immediately. The process took twenty minutes. In Hungary, they have a zillion rubber stamps and everything has to be stamped thirteen times after they have handwritten all of the information. Here, the poor banker had to enter heaven knows what into the computer. If I had not seen his fingers gliding over the keyboard like Dick Button, I would have sworn he was the world’s slowest typist. He did however; know his way around the Spanish version of QWERTY working at a speed that was a golden invite for carpal tunnel. After sweating it out, fearful that our Euro account in Hungary would provide some glitch, he handed me a pile of papers sans any rubber stamps and only one signature. This had to be presented to the cashier for the good paper, currency. All of this for a maximum daily withdrawal of 330 Euros.

Within an hour, I am convinced by this young beautiful woman that I need to buy two table runners. At first, the one with the pinks, oranges, reds, greens, purples, blacks and yellows was really appealing. This took me by surprise, because normally I would say “too gaudy”. Maybe it is the surroundings that give it appeal. Set against a volcano background, it was quite attractive actually. It is one of those things that once you have it home, it transforms into “What was I thinking?” There is the new apartment to decorate, so it can be shipped over there, but then too, it was a bargain. 

This lovely woman had a sling around her neck which instead of holding a bambino, was filled with dozens of runners. Her pitch started out with "I give you a good price, $1.00". Who cannot resist $1.00? Somehow, we paid $23 for two. Still a bargain, but how did we negotiate in the wrong direction? Ron egged me on for getting 2. I would have settled for one, which I could probably have bargained for and gotten for $39.99. Later in the day, others have wanted to sell me things for $1.00. It must be a local custom to confuse the tourists or they have me pegged as a sucker.

Table runners are all I bought today, but I did give a little boy some change. He wanted to polish my Crocs, but I explained they only needed water, not shoe polish. I took his picture, but then felt guilty when he rubbed his stomach and told me he was hungry; it is one of the words I remember in Spanish. Just leaving a restaurant where we enjoyed lunch, aided my need to be codependent regardless of where the money finally ended up. 

We also made friends with Clara, another lovely lady who made me promise I would look at her table runners tomorrow. I promised I would look. Just like most Latin American countries there are throngs of people out selling goods from flutes to table cloths and other things in between. “I give you a good price” and “I give it to you for $1.00” must be all of the English they learn. Well, not true, they do know all of the numbers above 1 when it comes to bargaining.

In the afternoon, we returned to the hotel for a rest, to read and to write. Around 6pm, we heard music and the faint sounds of people singing. Curious and about to go to dinner, we headed out the door, but stopped in our tracks. Walking past our hotel door were three angels, each with different types of wings. Ahead of them were three kings, but no others corporeal or inhuman followed. When angels have feet and use them rather than their wings, you know something is amiss. Soft stepping behind them, we knew they were headed for the cathedral where the singing was still going on. These three were certainly not part of the choir of angels or else they were in trouble for being late. When we arrived at the church, there were people milling around, but not nearly what one would call a crowd. 

The singing and music came from a band that set up in front of the church. There was no indication that this was a special occasion. They were not dressed in anything, but regular clothes. As the angels made their way to the church, they just hung around the parking lot, not joining in, not doing anything angelic. The three kings totally disappeared, perhaps because there were no stars out last night; they lost their way.

When it was apparent there was not going to be a choir of angels serenading us, we left and went on to dinner. Ron had read about an El Salvadorian restaurant. Service was excellent. For the first half hour, we were alone with the waiter and chef. I loved my pork dish; Ron was up in the air about his choice. Even when you know the language, ordering in an unfamiliar restaurant is always a gamble.    
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