by Fifi LaMode
When first deciding to visit Guatemala, I only knew of the Mayan ruins at Tikal, which was my primary reason for going. After booking the trip I was filled with apprehension amid the personal safety warnings (crime in the street, purse snatchings, muggings, etc.) What I was not prepared for was a country of warm, friendly, hospitable people, ideal weather, natural beauty, and loads of history.
This is one of the best-kept tourist secrets ever! There should be throngs of visitors everywhere, rather than just a smattering here and there. From the moment you go through immigration and are greeted with a "Bienvenidos" and a smile (quick - when was the last time you experienced THAT? Not in the U.S. of A., that's for sure!), to the youngster in the market who gave me a bead necklace with parrots (plus one for my friend) because I bought something from him, to the gracious and elegant waiters at the Mayan Inn at Chichicastenango (yes, it's as fabulous as its name) who also acted as our "butlers," lighting the fire in our rooms in the evening, asking if everything was ok, and cheerfully waving us goodbye and saying "come back…"
…To the smiling and attentive bartender who didn't expect a tip, to the 16 year old girl selling handicrafts with the piercing eyes and quiet voice who spoke slowly and precisely in English and wants to be a teacher, to our guide Tony, whose pride in his country and its history and traditions was evident every day of the tour, and who instilled in us a desire to learn more about this fascinating place, to the water at the Camino Real in Tikal who assured me I could sit as long as I wanted sipping the same beer in the dining room while taking notes and watching the sunset on the lake (He also encouraged me to get the delicious pig-out buffet for a whopping $16 US - Did I mention your money goes a long way here?)…
…To the guides at Tikal, Aquilino and Nixon, whose knowledge of Mayan history was matched by their skills in conjuring up various flora and fauna to our delight, and treating us like old friends after only a few minutes, to the shopkeeper in Guatemala City who remembered that I had passed by her store a few days earlier and thanked me for coming back; throughout the country you get the feeling that you are welcome. These are the faces of Guatemala, and a very good reason to go there.