Posts Tagged ‘The Economist rural tourism in Guatemala’

NY Times article, Trekking in Guatemala

Monday, March 28th, 2011

No sooner did I post The Economist article about Guatemala’s hope to promote “rural tourism” than another, related article appeared in the Sunday, March 27 edition of  The New York Times. Guatemala By Hiking Boots, Not Tour Bus, written by Mark Sundeen, is a feel-good, glowing account of a three-day hike from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan.

My reaction to the article surprised me. I’m a little offended by it.

For example, this paragraph:

Our accommodations were a municipal building, a cinder block structure around a courtyard with a fountain that didn’t work and an ash heap where skinny mutts gnawed leftovers. We were to sleep on the tile floor of a room with no furniture and a nonfunctioning light bulb hanging from a wire. I recognized the place from Hollywood thrillers: this was where the narco-cartel tortured its enemies.

I’m often accused of being overly-sensitive, but I don’t find jokes about narco-cartels funny. Especially narco-cartels in Guatemala.  This paragraph also offended me:

Remember when Guatemala was the world’s coolest destination, when your dorm-mates returned from winter break bedecked in purple ponchos for which they’d bargained— in Spanish! — from some actual Maya on market day in Chichicastenango? As decades of civil war calmed enough to allow tourism, your friends reported hair-raising rides aboard rickety chicken buses, those Blue Birds pimped like low-riders with flashing lights, naked-lady mud flaps, and Jesus and the Virgin airbrushed on the hood.

I object to the phase “some actual Maya,” because it treats a group of human beings as though they are specimens or a sideshow.  I also don’t agree with the writer’s description of  chicken buses as “Blue Birds pimped like low-riders… with…Jesus and the Virgin airbrushed on the hood,” (although I understand his intention). The Guatemalans I know are respectful people, very sincere in their religious beliefs. So while a bus may be painted with the word “Jesus,”  feature an outline of Guadalupe, and even be festooned with balloons, that’s a far cry from anything close to ”pimp my ride.” And after “decades of civil war,” the country has “calmed” down, really?

Maybe I’m just jealous because Mark Sundeen got to hike across Guatemala, and I didn’t.

In any case, it’s always a good day when the esteemed New York Times runs a positive article about Guatemala. As Mr. Sundeen writes, “Remember when Guatemala was the world’s coolest destination?” No argument there. Still is.

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