August 29, 2003


We arrived at this Caribbean island yesterday

by way of San Pedro, a big, busy, ugly city where I managed to get myself a visa for El Salvador, and then Triunfo de la Cruz, a tiny, sandy town by the sea, where we spent the night.

Triunfo was great. It's a little town of 900 people, nearly all of them Garifunas - African people who arrived in a slave ship, which was wrecked off an island called St Vincent. The captives escaped and settled with the indigenous population on the island, and remained unmolested by the few French merchants who were living there.

The Poms arrived and tried to round them up and put them to work, but the Garifunas resisted, eventually settling all along the coast of Honduras, a few in Guatemala, and some in Belize, as well. They speak a language of their own and are famous for their excellent music.

Triunfo is a sandy little place, with crabs scampering in the streets at dusk, where restaurants right on the sand serve fish and coconut soup while you sit under a palm canopy on the beach. It was extremely chilled out and the people were superfriendly. It's wet season, and a storm rained down on the tin roof of our cabana all night, and the ubiquitous roosters woke us up in time for our bus.

We arrived in Utila by boat after a very damp ride in a leaky chicken bus, and are about to start scuba diving. This island is full of houses like big old wooden Queenslanders - they are very elegant. It's also full of young tourists, all here for the diving. I am looking forward to getting under the water and looking at the fish.

Posted by Sarah at 09:24 AM | Comments (2)

August 26, 2003


Today I had a perfect day.

I arrived in the little town of Copan yesterday with Julia, a Swiss primary school teacher who studied at the same Spanish school I attended in Antigua. She and all her six brothers and sisters live in tiny villages - she calls them willages - just outside Lucerne. She is excellent company.

It was lucky that we arrived at all, as we missed the 4am coach out of Antigua, but the minibus driver who couldn´t find our street agreed to chase after the coach and we caught up with it just outside Guatemala City and arrived in the little town of Copan, just inside the Honduran border, at around 11am.

The town is very small and is nestled in a lovely green valley, just near the river Copan. Immediately outside the town are the famous Myan ruins of Copan, which we saw yesterday. They were very impressive, and we understood everything our Spanish speaking guide told us, which pleased us no end.

But today was just terrific. We got on some horses and went for a ride along the river, until we came to a Hacienda up in the hills, overlooking the coffee plantations and the tall, narrow brown buildings they use for drying tobacco.

There is a small ruin at this hacienda, which archeologists think was some kind of birthing pace for Mayan women of the lower classes. The rocks are all misplaced, and trees grow among them, and they´re covered in moss. But on one, you can still see the sculpture, in relief, of a woman giving birth. I thought of all those women all coign up to the hills to have babies with no painkillers. What´s more, once a year a baby was sacrificed to the gods there - you can still see the altar. We had a little stroll in the forest with our very friendly and informative guide, as he explained all about coffee growing and we understood every word. The forest was cool and moist under the hot sun.

We rode back along the river, then I remembered a little pupuseria I saw along our way, so we got of the horses and went there for lunch. The pupseria was housed in a white wooden shack, with coca cola logos paited all over it, with a tin roof and gauze windows all around. The kitchen was inside, and outside you could hear the chooks, and the women were always coming in from the yard with fresh supplies of eggs. The sound of the cook´s hands clapping as she made the pupusas was very cheerful.

Pupusas are delicious little tortilla cakes filled with cheese, or minced pork, or beans, or in one case, a fresh cheese with some previously untasted vegetable that looks like a green flower bud. The place was filled with the offspring of the four cooks, and the ony other diner besides us was a man with a huge moustache and an enormous white cowboy hat.

We were very happy with our lunch, and left the pupuseria in search of hammocks. There were some a few blocks away, by the river, and we got ourselves some pineapple juices and lay down and read our books. I´m reading "The Life of Pi" by a Canadian writer Yann Martel, and it´s very good.

The hammocks were under some tall trees, and we could hear the birds and the river, and the sound of heavy fruit falling onto the roof of a nearby thatched hut. There was a lovely gentle breeze. My only exertion was to flick ants off my shoulders. They crept onto me from the edges of my hammock. I wondered what happened to ants when they were flicked at a high speed across a garden. Do they die of shock during the flight? Do they simply land on the grass, feeling perfectly fine, and carry on creeping? Do they ever find their friends or their homes again? I didn´t feel bad, though. Life's tough when you're a wild animal.

Tomorrow we´re off to San Pedro Sula, a big city to the north of here, to see if I can get a visa for El Salvador. I hope to have another try at visiting the Davilas again in a week or two. Then we´re going to the Caribbean coast, eventually making our way to Utila, an island famed for its diving and snorkeling opportunities, where I´m hoping to meet Brendon, my distant but delightful cousin.

Posted by Sarah at 06:36 PM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2003


Today I had the greatest pineapple of my life.

I was at the border at Honduras.

Under a tree in front of the immigration department, which was nothing but a tumble-down wooden house with its blue paint peeling off, was a man with a sack of pineapples.

He was taking them out of the sack one by one, turning the fruit in his left hand and using his right to hack off the skin with his wood-handled knife. He did it very quickly, tidying up the ends of the pineapple before slicing it lengthways in both directions, as you might a lemon, leaving it attached at the base.

I shared mine with my traveling companion as we waited for everyone to get back on the bus bound for Copan.

When we each pulled a wedge away from the stem, there was such a spurt of juice that we laughed. But when Julia and I took a bite, we were covered in it. The fruit was so sweet and so delicious, we couldn't believe it. We were very happy to be in Honduras, eating such a pineapple, and the men by the side of the road laughed at us before letting us wash our hands in their water.

Posted by Sarah at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

The Hellish Volcano

Last weekend I climbed Volcan Agua.

It towers over Antigua at 3,700 metres. I climbed it with a group of foreigners who are also studying Spanish at my school.

First of all I had to get some equipment, because as many of you no doubt know I am not much of a hiker. I went to the market and bought a little daypack. It was $5 and it was bright yellow with Tweety Bird on it. That was the best I could do.

We all climed onto a chicken bus, which is an American schoolbus repainted in bright colours and loaded with as many people as can fit. We rode it a short distance to Santa Maria de Jesus, a little town at the base of the mountain. Here I learned from one of our guides that it would be supercold at the top of the volcano, so I bought a fleece in the market. The market was run by Mayan women, all decked out in their excellent clothes, speaking Cachiquel - if that's the right spelling - one of several indigenous languages.

Anyway, we started climbing. At first it was pretty pleasant, tramping along in single file up a narrow path, with the forest thick all around us, occasionally having to move aside for a farmer and his horse, loaded with chopped wood or crops of some sort.

It wasn't long, however, before I began to wonder how on earth I came to be in such a place, engaged in such an activity. I still don't understand it, but I guess everyone else was going and I didn't want to miss out. When the reality of climbing for six hours, then sleeping on the ground in a borrowed an inneffective sleeping bag began to dawn on me, I must say I started to feel worried.

But I carried on, chatting away and playing word games with these funny Australian medical students, Lachie and Andrew. Our guides weren't such terrific climbers themselves, and liked to stop quite frequently for refills of food, cigarettes and rum, so I was pleased about that. One of them, Rafael, was especially keen on rum. He was supposed to be our protector, and he had a large machete in his belt. There are bandits in the hills sometimes, but I'm not sure what Rafael, who was little and stout and clearly peace-loving, was going to do about them if they appeared.

Anyway, I was enjoying the exertion up to a point, but after more than five hours, I had well and truly had enough. But I thought to myself, at least I'll be pleased when I reach the top.

When we about 500 metres from the crater, though, things got really bad. There was a mist settling over the volcano and it was getting cold. At the same time, I was starting to feel very strange. I was breathing, but it didn't seem to be working the way it usually does. I was dizzy and I started to feel queasy. Rafael had to take Tweety because I couldn't carry him anymore.

When I saw the concrete bunkers we were to sleep in I realised the full extent of my folly. We spread some thin, greasy mattresses we found over the concrete floor and I had a few swigs of wine but none of it helped. I lay down, despondent, and tried to sleep but there was no chance. My hipbones were digging into the ground and I was disturbing my roomates, who were all huddled in together in their sleeping bags like a bunch of little grubs, with my half-delirious wimpers of distress.

At around 3am I started spewing, which provided no relief from the nausea.

The next day there was a magnificent sunrise but I felt like death and couldn't enjoy it. I lay back down.

I didn't know how I was going to get down the mountain, but somehow I did. After a few hundred feet I was back to normal, although very tired. So tired, in fact, that I managed to sleep all the way home on the chicken bus, wedged between my housemate, Didrik, and a farmer, on a seat for two.

I had a snooze back at the house, then Didrik and I met the Australians for a Trivia competition at the Irish pub. This cheered me up no end, as we won, and used our winnings to shout beers for the other teams.

I went to bed earlyish, but was woken just after midnight by a tremor! I was quite excited about it. The whole bed shook, and I could hear the town shaking, and the house seemed to shift from side to side. My bus driver today said he thought it was pretty strong, but that they have about five or six tremors like that each year.

The next morning at 4am I left for Honduras.

Posted by Sarah at 06:05 PM | Comments (1)

August 24, 2003


It seems like none of the gringos but me likes frijoles.

The Guatemalans, and all the Central Americans, I think, love them. They generally eat black beans, refried, at every occasion. To my taste, they go particularly well with scrambled eggs. I like to throw a lot of chile sauce on them, too, a habit I picked up after many brunches in New York with the little Mexican, Cecilia. The beans don't look that good when you see them in a brown heap on the plate, but they taste delicious. This morning I had a bean sandwich at the truck stop on our way to Honduras, and it was excellent.

Anyway, in Guatemala it's beans and corn. They grow corn in every available space and the Mayans used to think people were made of corn.

Guatemalan women get up very early and use cornmeal to make the tortillas for the day. They roll the mixture into balls and slap it between their hands then lay the flat little breads out on the top of a half-drum sort of thing, with a fire underneath.

Streetside snacks are often tortillas, folded in half, with something stuffed inside - cheese or meat - which are deep fried on the top of the tin drum barbecue arrangement. They have tomato chillie sauce poured over the top. I have been getting myself accustomed to the street food and now I eat it all the time and I haven't been sick. It's usually very delicious and extremely economical.

Posted by Sarah at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2003

Un episodio en español

por mis amigos...

El Miércoles, yo vi una cosa que antes, solamente habia imaginado, o habia visto en mis sueños.

Estuve en una nube.

Subí el Volcán Pacaya. Despues subiendo por el bosque por dos horas, llegué a un paisaje como la luna.

No pude ver nada, excepto piedras negras y una bruma profunda y blanca.

Estuva bellísima.

A menudo, he imaginado esta escena: yo, sola, en un risco, cayendo felizmente dentro de un monton de nubes.

Entonces, quise saltar, pero me resistí.

Fue una cosa muy especial para ver en realidad.

Posted by Sarah at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)


You won't BELIEVE what happened to me last night...

I was in an Irish bar here in Antigua, and I was having a little glass of wine with my Swiss friend, Julia. We were speaking in English, and a young man at the bar interrupted us to ask me where I was from. I could hear that he was Australian, too, and he said that he hadn't encountered many of his countrymen on his trip so far.

I said I was from Sydney, he said whereabouts, I said Drummoyne, and where did you grow up?

"Out west a bit" he said, "Near Wagga - do you know it?"

I said "I sure do, as a matter of fact I was born in Griffith."

"Well, I'm from a very small town just near there," he said, "but nobody's ever heard of it."

I said "What's its name?"

"Binya!" he said.

I started to laugh.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Conlan" he said.

And I slapped the bar and laughed very loudly.

"You're my cousin!" I said. "My name's Gilbert."

I had no recollection of Brendon Conlan, nor he of me, but I do remember his sister, Nicole, who is my age.

Brendon and I laughed a lot, then he told me he'd been working in New York for the past year, which made the whole thing even funnier.

We didn't know what to say after that. It was too weird. We could only laugh. He left to meet some friends but we'll meet later tonight, I guess. He seems like a very pleasant person.

So what do you think of that?

NOTE: For those non-Australians, Griffith is a largeish town six hours southwest of Sydney. Binya isn't even a town, really, as I don't think it has any houses in it. Maybe a few. It has a meeting hall and a school and a petrol station and that's about it, if I remember correctly. Its people mostly live on farms in the area. My grandfather and my uncles had a farm there for many years. Brendon and I are related on my paternal grandmother's side. We're third cousins or something like that.

And here are some of my brother James's fond recollections of Brendon and his brother on their farm at Binya:

"If you see Brendon again remind him of the emu story - he, his brother and I on a 4 wheel motor bike, after throwing mud and rocks at a pack of emus, getting chased in full flight by big mumma - very scary. God, we were young and silly - the driver used to also spit in the air straight ahead and then duck as it came back so it would hit the person's face sitting behind him....!! I had one of the greatest holidays of my youth with them!"

Posted by Sarah at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)

August 19, 2003


Antigua is pretty much Latin America for Dummies.

It's very easy to navigate, and you'd have trouble contracting any form of culture shock here. It is full of gringos and all sorts of other foreigners.

It is, nonetheless, extremely pretty. It's a world heritage site, so the colonial look is well maintained, with lots of elegant old houses having been turned into restaurants and hotels and sympathetically restored in the Spanish style - a square courtyard with a fountain enclosed by a cloistered porch with rooms off it. The buildings are very close to the street, with no front yards or porches, and they're all finished with plaster and painted brightly in reds and yellows.

There are loads of cars charging along the narrow streets, and these colourful buses they call chicken buses. What's amusing is that half the cars are just like mine - the Datsun 1200 ute appears to be very popular in Central America, and it comes in all sorts of colours here. There are also plenty of trucks. At around 4:30 this morning, one broke down right outside my window and sent a whole cloud of exhaust straight into my room. It was revolting.

All the streets here are cobbled, with narrow raised footpaths that can't fit two abreast. People are crashing into each other all the time, but nobody seems to mind. The atmosphere is very cheerful.

In the centre of the town is a large cathedral with a pretty baroque facade and a lovely park with a fountain. The park is full of seats and lovers, and Mayan women selling their little woven items, and men and boys selling nuts. I don't know why nuts are such a fixation, but they are everywhere.

The weather is excellent - it's winter time, but that means it's warm and it rains in the afternoons. The mornings are usually clear, and the big green volcano that looks down on the town is very magestic. I plan to climb it this weekend. After lunch the clouds start gathering and in the past few days we've had thunderstorms in the late afternoon, and soft rain all night. Our house has a tin roof, so the rain at night is perfect.

I have gotten myself into a very pleasant little routine, here. I go to Spanish class at 8, and in the break I go to a little German cafe and have an espresso and attempt to read the Guatemalan newspaper. Mostly it's about the upcoming elections. After school I have lunch back at the house, where I practice my Spanish with Mireille and her kids. Then in the afternoons I do some writing, read my book in the park and then sometimes have a coffee or a beer with one or two of the other students at the school. I have been hanging about with a Swiss schoolteacher called Julia who likes to laugh at the way I say "beer" and a very chatty Norwegian boy, Didrik (you can see a picture of him here, and I think he'll post some pictures with me in them soon:, who has moved into Mireille's house. After dinner we generally go out for a drink or to see a movie in one of the bars. The bars are all full of foreigners.

Those Dutchmen moved out and are now somewhere at Lake Atitlan - I was sorry because I was starting to become friendlier with them. It took me a few days to warm up after I first arrived. But Didrik is good company, and he'll be here for at least another three weeks (he speaks very good English, like most Scandinavians). A priest from Brazil has just moved into the house, too. He can't speak Spanish at all, and he has no English, either. Like a lot of Catholic priests, I guess, he can speak some Italian. When we're at meals he just issues mysterious utterances in a mixture of Portuguese and Italian, and then he grins optimistically. I am the only one who can understand him at all, because I can pick out the Italian parts, but he is basically incomprehensible. Mireille's children just look at him as though he's crazy whenever he speaks. He is taking Spanish lessons for a couple of weeks before he has to go into the countryside to say mass and make sermons. I wonder what his flock will think.

So I'm having a pretty enjoyable, chilled-out time. Sometimes I get these rushes of happiness, when I am just astonished at my own freedom. Other times I feel kind of smugly self-sufficient, like on Sunday night when I dined at an Italian bar, eating bread with cheese and drinking red wine while I read Travel and Leisure magazine all by myself. Other times I get that weird feeling of fragmentation, like I'm just a piece of nothing much floating randomly about the place - I felt like that when I was hitchiking with those Chileans back to Regina's empty house in the capital after being cruelly turned away by the Salvadorean border cops. And of course once or twice I've wondered what on earth I'm doing here, and why bother traveling, and what's the point in having such a big, varied world when you're stuck inside your own stupid boring head all the time? It's not that pleasant to feel like that, but it's not entirely unpleasant either - at least, I find it interesting.

But mostly I'm just calmly enjoying the surroundings and conscientiously practising my Spanish. It's pretty good fun speaking a foreign language - it makes me feel as though I'm pretending to be someone else.

Here's a photo of me, Didrik the chatty Norwegian, and Jose the incomprehensible priest, having a meal at Mireille's place
dinner table

And here's one of me and Julia, my Swiss friend, standing in front of Antigua's lovely arch near the centre of town.
me and Jules

Posted by Sarah at 02:57 PM | Comments (1)

August 17, 2003


I had an excellent drive to the lake on Friday with Cristina and her kids.

She has three - Cristinita, Maria-Jose and Javier. They are all delightful and they brought along their hamsters and their very cute dog, which looks like a sheep it´s so white and curly.

They were all going to meet their father, as well as Cristina´s brother and sister and sundry other relations, at the family holiday house near the lakeside town of Santiago. Cristina´s husband, Javier, has a finca - a big coffee farm - not far from the lake.

The drive was interesting, as Cristina explained how worried people are about the upcoming presidential election. A man called Rios Montt is running, despite having seized power some years ago in a military-backed coup. He recently bribed some judges to allow him to run in the election, as it´s unconstitutional for anyone who ever launched a coup to run for public office. But the judicial system here is completely corrupt. Anyway, he hasn´t got much support (he´s the one my teacher doesn´t like, either) and he is supposed to have been responsible for at least one massacre of indigenous villagers before the 1996 peace accords. But Cristina is worried he´s going to use his military support to rig the elections and take the presidency. She says it´s very frustrating to have such a malfunctioning system, and I´m sure it must be.

As well as the interesting conversation, the countryside was very pretty. It´s so green here, and the mountains are gorgeous and lush, and usually veiled with misty little clouds.

Cristina´s brother Alejandro and his wife Irene and son Alex, as well as Cristina´s sister Mariana, arrived at the house just as we did. They all invited me to stay to lunch, after which I could take a boat to the other side of the lake to San Marcos, a little town. Then they suggested I stay the night and go to San Marcos the next day. Finally, I ended up staying the whole weekend because I was enjoying myself so much. Everyone was so friendly and cheerful, and the lake is just beautiful. It´s surrounded by magestic green volcanoes and it´s dotted with indigenous fisherman, who sit in little wooden boats and use nets and spears to catch the fish.

On Saturday more people arrived - cousins and friends - and everyone was so pleasant. I went swimming a couple of times, and basically just sat around eating and drinking and playing board games and talking to everyone. It was great.

And I think it's true that Latin American people are unsually warm. Not only was everyone beautifully warm and welcoming of me, but they were so cosy with one another. The way Javier and Cristina are with their lovely children made me look forward very much to having kids of my own, and of course it made me really pleased to think I'll be seeing my own dear gorgeous family in December.

Now I´m in Panajachel, the largest town on the lake. I took the boat here with Cristina´s cousin Margarita and her two little girls, who all live in the town. I´m taking a bus back to Antigua tonight for another week of classes, and then, who knows? I still haven´t chosen my next destination.

Posted by Sarah at 02:27 PM | Comments (1)

my attempt at illegal immigration

So my weekend in El Salvador with the Davilas didn´t work out because a very uncooperative border cop said I needed a visa, which I didn´t have.

It was most annoying. I drove to the border with Regina and Ricardo, and despite begging the man most kindly, he insisted that I not go into El Salvador at all. Regina had called the embassy earlier that week, and they assured her I didn´t need one, and last time I went to El Salvador I didn´t have one and they didn´t seem to mind, but this very officious gentleman had a list and Australia was on it and he could not be moved.

Ricardo told me to hide around the other side of the building at the border, and he would pick me up and we´d cross anyway, but the cops had their eyes on me and pulled the car up. The other cop demanded my passport but I wouldn´t give it to him and so he made us turn around and cross the river and go back to the Guatemalan side.

Poor Regina was most upset, as she is very organised and likes everything to be perfect. But anyway, there was nothing we could do so I hitched a ride back to Regina´s place in Guatemala City with a Chilean couple. They weren´t very chatty and it was really weird sitting in the back seat in silence, but I got to Gaute safely.

The next day, Friday, the Salvadorean embassy was closed for a public holiday, so I admitted defeat and resigned myself to the fact that I wasn´t going to the beach. Regina was ringing me up all morning, so sad that I wasn´t there, and she got her friend Cristina to call me and see if I needed anything. Cristina said she´d give me a lift to the airport to get back to Antigua, but when I asked Cristina where she was going for the weekend and she said Lake Atitlan, I thought I may as well go there, too. Antigua was getting boring and I hadn´t seen the lake.

Thus my weekend turned out to be excellent after all.

Posted by Sarah at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2003

Ahora hablo espanol

I arrived here in Antigua yesterday, and checked straight into a Spanish classes/homestay kind of deal that's very popular with foreigners.

Regina drove me to Antigua, the lovely old capital of Spain's Central American colonies, after I spent the morning checking out the Palacio Nacional in Guatemala City with Ricardo, and looking at a couple of museums.

Now I'm staying with a woman named Mireille, who lives 15 minutes from the town square. I got her name from my dear friend Anna Burlow, who stayed with her in April.

Mireille's house is a typical Antiguan house - a flat-roofed, flat-fronted house with an iron gate, which sits right on the narrow footpath that's raised above the cobbled street. Immediately inside is the dining table, in an alcove that's open onto the little courtyard. Around the courtyard are the bedrooms and the kitchen. Mireille works at home with her four little kids (she and her husband are separated) and she lets three rooms to tourists, and she cooks three meals a day for them as well. Right now there are two Dutchmen staying - they are very pleasant but they speak hopeless Spanish and they don't go much on the food - they especially don't like tortillas and beans, which is a pity because both items feature quite heavily. Of course I like all the food.

Last night I had my first Spanish lesson from Anna and Diana, who are seven and six years old respectively. They are Mireille's daughters, and they're extremely cute, with gorgeous long black hair, long eyelashes and big brown eyes. They're very friendly and both of them like to crack jokes. They sat up with me after dinner and I pointed and asked for words, and they tried to spell them correctly, so it was very educative for all of us.

Today I had my first proper lesson at the school. It was very hard work. My teacher is about my age, I think, and lives just outside town with her sisters and her mother. Her name in Miriam.

I was surprised at how much I can speak when I really try. It hurts your brain after a while, but it's quite fun. We had lots of conversations, punctuated by grammer lessons and exercises. The conversations weren't so boring - we had the typical ones about how many brothers and sisters everyone had, but then we started talking about the upcoming presidential election in Guatemala (there is an ex-general running, but he has only 3.3 percent in the opinion polls, much to Miriam's relief), and the discrimination faced by indigenous people who want jobs in restaurants and bars around town (the managers won't let the Indians keep their traditional clothes, which upsets the Indians a lot - they want to go on wearing the very beautiful woven garments that Mayan women have been making and wearing for centuries, and who can blame them?) We also discussed the problem with Guatemalan men. Miriam is dismayed because her father is always bolting with women other than her mother. She blames machismo.

I am supposed to study with Miriam for five hours a day, starting at 8am (not that hard to get up - the roosters, and there must be thousands of them, start going beserk at about 5am). I think I'll be able to speak pretty well after two more weeks of this.

Here's a picture of three of Mireille's kids, Diana, Valentin and Domenic - Ana is missing.
Mireille's kids

And here's their mother, my delightful hostess


Posted by Sarah at 02:38 PM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2003

Guatemala City

I still feel strange, the way you always do when you're adjusting to a holiday. It is good to be here, though.

Regina is so kind and solicitous and she and Ricardo are looking after me ridiculously well. Regi is so careful - she wants me to be safe, and is afraid I'll get lost - she even drew me a map today just to walk in one straight line from her office to Ricardo's. I lost the map right away, at a cafe where I sat and wrote my journal and tried to read the Guatemalan newspaper. Regina would be horrified to contemplate the things I will no doubt do on this trip - none of them will be especially risky, but I'm sure she'd think they were. She is so cute.

I didn't really get a sense of the character of Guatemala City in my one morning here. I liked the look of downtown, with all the street stalls and the colourful colonial buildings with the paint peeling off. The police headquarters is full of bulletholes from all the uprisings and general chaos over the years. The main square is full of activity, with a pretty fountain and the national palace and the main cathedral. There's a kind of tent set up out the front of the palace, protesting the way Pepsi treats its workers in its factory in Guatemala.

The commercial center with all the hotels and stores like Gap and Guess is where Regina and Ricardo have their offices. Regina works for an investment company and Ricardo builds shopping centers.

The streets in this part of town are lined with gum trees and bottle brushes. So weird to be reminded of Stanmore when one's on the other side of the world. I always feel glad when I see my own trees in the wrong country - I feel like they're friends of mine. We're kind of winking at each other, as if to congratulate ourselves on how clever we all were to get all the way over here. But I feel sad for them, too. They must be homesick for Australia - they don't belong here all by themselves. They smell so good.

Regina will take to me Antigua this afternoon, then on Thursday we'll meet again in Guatemala City and on Friday morning we'll drive to the beach in El Salvador with her kids, her sister Tete and her family, and her brother, and perhaps their mother. I met them all at New Year in 2002, when I traveled with Rebeca, and it will be good to see them again. I'm sorry Rebeca can't leave New York for the weekend to be with us.

Posted by Sarah at 07:09 PM | Comments (0)

Day 1

When I arrived in Guatemala, I was very happy to see Regina, whose sister Rebeca has been one of my best friends in New York.

She and her husband, Ricardo, picked me up and took me to their house, which, like the homes of most people in their social class in Guatemala City, is in a sort of gated compound. We had a bizarre drink that Ricardo likes to make - it's basically bloody Mary mix with beer, so it's all fizzy and foamy. I needed a drink after that kid screaming at me and punching me for five hours straight, so I liked it.

We went to another couple's house for lunch, again in a gated sort of mini-village in the hills overlooking the city center. The people at lunch were very warm and lively, and their kids were delightful. I asked plenty of questions about the sitation in Guatemala but I really only learned a little of what it's like from the perspective of the upper classes. Regina is preoccupied, naturally, with the safety of her kids (she has two - they're with her parents in San Salvador at the moment) and she worries about crime. Everyone is frustrated with the level of corruption in the government.

Regina and I had an interesting talk about racism in Guatemala. We agreed that everyone has the capacity for it, and she said a social and political system like Guatemala's encourages and fosters it - there are few opportunities for people like Regina to connect on a personal level with indigenous Guatemalans (who make up 75 present of the population here). The Indians rightly resent the fact that many of them have very hard lives, and no political power or self-determination, while the white people (or Ladinos, as the Indians call them) feel that resentment and become defensive, often criticizing the indigenous people when they call for better social services on one hand, yet refuse to pay taxes on the other. Ladinos are also often suspicious of Indians, feeling that they are always trying to take advantage of them or rip them off.

I hope I can find out more about the history of the country and the progress it's made since the 1996 peace accord with the guerillas - it's a pretty interesting place.

Posted by Sarah at 10:21 AM | Comments (1)

August 10, 2003

JFK to Guatemala

I took a cab from my Brooklyn home to JFK at 5:30am on Sunday

My friend Jane, who has moved from Sydney into my room while she does her LLM at NYU, waved from the window while my flatmate, Prue, half asleep, put me in the taxi. I'd had no sleep despite getting home at 3am after drinking and dancing almost all of Friday night, packing all day Saturday, and going out until 3am Sunday. I guess I was too excited to sleep.

The last few days in New York were great fun, though. Everyone very kindly showed up at my farewell at Luca Lounge, and there was a little cake party at the office, and Jane, thank heavens, helped me pack my room (although the house is still full of my stuff - sorry, girls). I felt pretty strange most of the time - like my mind had already shifted out of there while the rest of me had to keep drinking while I waited until it was time to get on the plane. I was sad, too, of course.

JFK was hideous at 6 am Sunday. The queue for my airline snaked all the way around the back of the check-in counter and people had to check in, then take their bags themselves to be x-rayed rather than just leaving them at the desk - some kind of new security regime.

That feeling of exhilaration I always look forward to on a plane was a little elusive this time. I had a very cute but ill-behaved infant next to me, who did a lot of smiling but also a fair bit of punching, of both his mother and myself. I had a headache, of course, and would have liked him not to punch me, but every time his mother tried to stop him, he screamed his head off. I tried to let her know I'd suffer his blows rather than hear him yell like that, but I couldn't say it in Spanish and in my weakened state I hadn't the energy or brain power to redirect his course, so I surrendered. It was very unpleasant.

Posted by Sarah at 02:09 PM

August 06, 2003

leaving New York

Packing my boxes this week has been awful, and the long faces of my best friends are too depressing for words.

I hate to leave New York and am sort of filled with panic that this whole chapter is over, and I wonder if I'll ever have a chance to live here again. Even if I did, it wouldn't be the same place - New York changes so quickly, with new bars and restaurants opening and the character of whole neighborhoods shifting in a matter of months.

Within a year or so, many of my friends here will move home to their own countries and it will be years before I'll see them again. It's so hard trying to enjoy the farewell dinners and parties - I just feel so sad to be leaving all these people behind.

And I have been very happy here, and have felt so free and so capable in New York, that it's horrible to have to go and I know I'll miss the city all my life.

The fact that I'm off on a four-month holiday is little comfort, really, as I'm going by myself where nobody will know me and the whole projected adventure seems completely blank when I try to fix my mind on it.

As soon as I'm on the plane, though, I know my mind will start to shift and I'll feel like I'm flying straight into my unfettered, unattached, dislocated self. It's a feeling that always thrills me - it starts to creep upon me at the airport and builds as the plane nears its destination. The best is when I wake up the next morning, in a strange room in a strange place, and I slowly work out where I am and I realise I'm all alone with no idea what to expect. Then the world seems so full of possibility and surprise - I love that moment better than almost anything.

Posted by Sarah at 04:41 PM

the itinerary

Here's the itinerary so far...

Sunday 10 August: Arrive in Guatemala City and stay with Regina Davila, my friend Rebeca Davila's sister.

Monday 11 August: Head to Antigua for some Spanish lessons.

Friday September 12: Be in Mexico City to meet my friend Cecilia de la Macorra, who'll be flying in from New York to go to her brother's wedding. Melanie and Tristan arrive from Melbourne to meet me.

Saturday September 13: Go to Jaime de la Macorra’s wedding with Ceci.

Monday September 15: Head off on ten-day trip with Mel and Tristan in the south of Mexico.

Wednesday September 24: Mel and Tristan go back to Oz.

Saturday September 27: Arrive in Lima for a lavish travel junket courtesy of the Orient Express. I'm traveling with Sara Stewart, my colleague at the New York Post. We'll see Cusco and Machu Picchu and the rest.

Sunday October 5: Back in Lima, Sara leaves for NYC and I have a blank itinerary for the next five weeks.

Monday November 17: Check into Kelea Surf Spa in Mal Pais, Costa Rica.

Monday November 24: Fly from San Jose, Costa Rica to NYC.

Wednesday, December 3: Fly home to Sydney.

Posted by Sarah at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

some of my New York Post stories

In case you're interested, here are some links to stories I've written for the New York Post's travel section:

In each case, you click on the text to enlarge it and turn the pages using the arrow buttons.

Nip, Tuck and Tan

Royal Treatment

Totally Boy Crazy

Surf's Up

Bodies by Bondi

W Mexico City

Posted by Sarah at 01:38 PM | Comments (3)

about me and this trip

I'm an Australian journalist and I'm 29 years old.

I've spent the last two years in New York City, writing for the New York Post, but my visa has run out and I'm taking four months to travel in Latin America. The itinerary is pretty sketchy but I'm starting in Guatemala, heading to Mexico in September, going to Peru in October and will end up in Costa Rica in November before swinging by New York for one last goodbye, then returning home to Sydney for Christmas.

I hope you enjoy my weblog.

Posted by Sarah at 11:34 AM