written March 20, 1999 by Brian Foley

I am writing you from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, known fondly as Xela (pronounced Che 'la) by the locals. After an all too brief stay in Eugene, Oregon I left on Tuesday the 9th of March (extended by one day - soon after boarding the train I realized I hadn't packed my passport and dinero where I thought I had - oops, but better to get the problems over with at the beginning of the trip, right?) blazing thru Oregon and California on the Starlight Express. Felt kinda guilty not stopping in Cali to visit with friends along the way. Amtrak is a cool way to go, with an onboard entertainer, dining car, plus bar, and cheap if you don't mind sleeping sprawled across 2 seats with nice leg rests (if you've got the dough you can take the sleeper car with wine tasting in the afternoons). Spent a night in a hostel called the Banana Bungalow in San Diego, took a trolley to the border and walked into Tijuana. Missed my flight to Mexico City and waited a bit for the next flight. Got into the City with Too Many People and went straight to the bus station and was southbound within two hours on a 18 (mas o menos) hour bus ride to Tapachula, Chiapas, near the Mexican/Guatemalan border. Along the way thru southern Mexico was much road damage still being repaired caused by Hurricane Pauline in 97. Took a collectivo Saturday morning to the border at Talisman and walked across the southern Mexican border. Money changers were hawking big wads of Quetzales, the Guatemalan currency, where taxi drivers were trying to get $40 quetzales for a ride that ended up costing $3 quetzales ( $1US = $6.7Q) in a collectivo. Buses here in Guatemala resemble dressed up school buses with a bit of a Partridge Family flovor to the paint jobs, and they fit about 3 people per seat. But the people here are about the size of 5th graders in the States, so its not as bad as it sounds. And the people here are very friendly. Plus, I gotta mention, it don't cost much. Got to Xela in the afternoon, and was picked up at the bustop on the edge of town by a nice young couple that were trying to recruit students for their language school. I didn't end up choosing their school, but they gave me a kind introduction to the town and we shared a beer in the courtyard of their casa/school. Xela is Guatemala's second largest city, but it still retains a small town feel. In Xela, everyone acknowledges you on the streets as you pass with a "Buenas Dias" or "Buenas Tardes", that is except for the other travelling folks here studying Spanish. Oh well. That part isn't much different than Seattle. And did I mention the sun has been shining, and though I'm at 7500 feet above sea level, its warm? Spring has sprung early for me.

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