Thursday, September 29, 2005

Livingston, I presume

So in our ongoing efforts to make connections with Americans in Guatemala, the consular section does periodic road shows around the country to explain what we can do for our ex-pat friends. And since Americans inevitably have friends who want visas, or get questions from strangers who think that any American can get them a visa, I went on the most recent trip to explain the visa process. We went to the far East of Guatemala, to two towns that couldn't be more different from Guatemala City.

Rio Dulce (the town) is a small collection of buildings where Rio Dulce (the river) drains the biggest lake in Guatemala, heading toward the Caribbean. The American community there is mostly centered around boat owners who hole up there to avoid hurricanes, and decide to stay for anywhere from a few months to a few decades. I wore my suit, they mostly wore jams and muscle shirts. They were a friendly bunch, though. The hotel we stayed at was a bunch of little cottages on stilts over the edge of the river -- very pretty, and mostly empty since most of the guests there just tie up their boats and use the hotel for the bar.

We travelled by there from by boat down the river, vegetation-covered cliffs towering on each side. At the mouth of the Rio Dulce (the river) is the town of Livingston, which is like a whole different world. It's a town of about 6,000 inhabitants, mostly of African descent, but with a fair amount of more typical Guatemalan stock mixed in. Most speak Garifuna, a language that I guess is related to a lot of the Caribbean languages of escaped slaves. In general they spoke better Spanish than English, so I had to do an impromptu Spanish version of my English presentation, since I'll admit that my Garifuna is a little rusty. It was good practice to do honest-to-goodness public speaking in Spanish -- I don't think I said anything to spark any international incidents. The whole town felt very Caribbean, which I suppose shouldn't be too surprising, but it still kind of is. Just on the other side of the bay, Puerto Barrios looks and feels almost exactly like the rest of Guatemala, but Livingston could just as easily be part of Jamaica.

I also ate a stew that had one whole crab, one whole fish, three whole giant shrimps, and one banana in it. And coconut milk. Delicious, but I guess you were supposed to crack the slippery crab shells open with your bare hands -- perhaps this skill comes naturally to some people. Hopefully I'll be back at some point with more practice time on my hands.

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