Monday, August 17, 2009

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Time flies! I've already gone three whole months without writing anything at all in this weblog. I just sprained my ankle and school doesn't start until tomorrow, so this might be a good time to try and get things somewhat up-to-date.

Well, after studying at the Escuela de la Montaña, I went to the Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco de Español, a rather famous and large school, where I studied such things as the works of Asturias, and some Latin American history. I was not able to do many tourist activities, but I did learn a lot about Latin American culture.

I also learned to navigate the Guatemalan trasportation system, for example doing an epic, two-day loop through the mountains, then across Lago de Atitlan, then through the Pacific Coast lowlands using a whole range of excentric modes of transportation (of course, my camera died during that trip).

Most importantly, I learned a lot about the Guatemalans. The poverty level in Guatemala is incomprehensible. Many, many people are malnourished - especially children. Beans are surprisingly uncommon in poor houselholds, and aren't normally grown in the plantations (farmers are almost completely dependent on low-quality, subsidized fertilizers). As a result, proteins are in short supply, and many families rely on their kids killing birds and catching crabs to put small amounts of protein on the table.

The main cultivation there is coffee - which does the vast majority of the population very little good and enriches a small elite of mostly white, quasi-aristocratic families.

There are also other crops, obviously, mostly classic tropical crops such as mangoes, bannanas, lots of cardamom, skinny cows, slash-and-burn in the northern jungles, etc. This is a small view of a rubber plantation.

Thankfully, not everything is a monoculture. This tree fern grows in a coffee plantation. Although the normal threat to tree ferns is exploitation for making garden ornaments, in Guatemala it seems to be mostly harvested for the supposed medicinal qualities of the heart of the stem.

Birds are fairly rare in many parts, often because they are pretty intensively hunted. This parrot is just one of many, many unusual pets I came across in and around people's homes.



dave castle said...

good blog very good blog why you put frenchman??

Paul Norwood said...

well, I'm French... I can't actually reply, so thanks.