Wednesday, June 25, 2014

6-24 Bus Adventures, Comalapa

I requested the day off work so that I could go to the festival in San Juan Comalapa.  It’s their biggest of the year, and my teachers Ixkamey and Ixkaj were both there, so I went.  To get there, I knew I would have to take a bus.  I also knew that the route near Comalapa had a lot of curves as it went through the mountains.  Nonetheless, I figured that the trip would be worth the pain.  At the end, I still believe it was.  But getting there was much more of an adventure than I expected.

I had to take 2 buses to get there.  Fortunately, I found a guy on the first bus who was going to the same place, so I got off when he got off, then ran across a street to catch the next bus.  Now this bus was more full than any other bus I’ve ever been on.  We were in the middle of their route, so I had no chance of getting a seat.  I was 1 person away from having to hang out the door.  It was extremely uncomfortable, and I was holding on to whatever I could to stay in one place and not accidentally push anyone out to their death.  Or at least broken bones, maybe I’m being dramatic.  But my real story hasn’t yet began.  We stopped in a random place and 2 more people wanted to get on.  They were older, so they couldn’t handle hanging out the door.  So the helper told one other guy and myself to get out and go to the back of the bus.  Well, we got to the back and they were packed there too.  There was no way we could fit.  So what did we do?  Well, we went up to the roof of the bus.  Yup.  To be fair, at least they have some traction on the roof and a 6-inch railing around the whole thing.  But, as you can imagine, it was sketchy.  I prayed hard.  If that bus were to crash, I may have been able to survive by hitting the packs of stuff that were tied on top of the bus.  But I also might have flown off.  At first it was fun, I snuck out my camera and took a few selfies of the experience.  This is one thing that justifies selfies.

My compatriots always informed me of low-hanging trees ahead of time so that I wouldn’t get hit.  They were thin branches so it probably wouldn’t have knocked me off, but at 30-40 mph it would have hurt a lot.  I then abandoned my half-seated position for a laying-down position.  Many other trees threatened my existence throughout the trip, but none were low enough to catch me in my new position.  Also, speed bumps are interesting when on the top of a bus.  Did I get kicked up a foot above the roof?  No, it was probably only 6 inches.  But I tell you what, you feel those 6-inches when you come down.  Finally, we reached the turns.  The ones I mentioned in the introduction that I didn’t even want to take from within the bus.  Oh boy.  I held on tight.  It was terrifying, but in some strange way it was also exhilarating.  Maybe it is similar to what it feels like to drive a convertible!  Wind in my hair, sun out, connected to nature and to the road.  In a very different way.  Finally, the tumultuous curves came to an end and we had almost arrived in Comalapa.  At this point, the helper popped his head over the roof and asked us to pay!  I first wanted to ask why on earth he wanted to do this while we’re going 30 mph, and second wanted to ask for a discount for being outside the bus.  I did not pose either of these questions because I just wanted to get my wallet out of my pocked and give him the money before I fell off from not being able to hang on to the bars on the sides.  When I finally got off in Comalapa, a lot of people looked at me in wonder because I am sure they have never seen a gringo climb down from the top of a bus after an experience like mine.  What an experience.  A lot of crazy things happened in Peru, but nothing of this variety.  Wow.  I will never forget my adventures on top of an exotically-painted, retired American school bus through the mountains of Guatemala. 

Once in town, I met up with Ixkaj.  She led me around the festival, which was crazy and packed, as seems to be common in Latin America.  First we went through the market.  It is about the same as any other market, but it was huge for the size of the town.  Tarps above all the vendors, no space to walk, etc.  Eventually we came across the procession, where a statue of the patron Saint John is carried through the city.  It was a great excuse to get pictures of traditional clothing, and the statue was also very beautiful.  My favorite role was a guy with a long tool to move low power-lines out of the way when they were at risk of hitting the statue’s head.  Here are some pictures:

Then we arrived to the rides.  As much as I wanted to get the view from the top of the Ferris-wheel, I did not trust the thin supports and outdated machinery.  All rides seemed to be like that, but some were small enough that no one would die if they broke.  I enjoyed the traditional ride of chairs being rotated in a circle, but with a twist…  It was hand-cranked instead of machine operated.  All these things that we don’t see in the states. 

Eventually we made it over to the dancers.  It wasn’t anything as extravagant as Puno, but it was still interesting.  A nice live band plus masked dancers in very interesting outfits.  They seemed to be some kind of a mix between Spanish and Mayan influences.  My personal favorite looked like an African-American DJ.  Not sure what he was doing there.  Also, the skirts the women wore were incredibly short.  I was shocked, because culturally that is not a thing here.  Women wear skirts past their knees, or sometimes all the way down to their feet.  It seemed very strange that a religious festival happened to be the excuse for women to wear less clothing.


Ixkaj and I alternated between marveling at the rides and enjoying the dancers for a while, then got hungry and went to lunch.  There was one restaurant in town that was apparently the best, so we went there.  I was very impressed!  The food was delicious, and service wasn’t so bad.  It was great to chat about Kaqchikel and culture and whatnot with Ixkaj.  I also figured out that her sister, Ixkamey, had been to Chicago with Dr. Rohloff during his time at UIUC.  It dawned on me that this was the woman who Amanda Cuevas (director of the Office of Fellowships at GVSU) had given clothing to, because Ixkamey informed her it was from Comalapa.  I am still amazed by how small the world is.  Also, Dr. Rohloff had apparently stayed in their house for some time when he was learning Kaqchikel, so it was cool to hear about her interactions with the man I’ve heard so much about. 

The bus ride home was not so eventful, which I was ok with.  Sure, the bus was so packed that people were sitting 3 in every seat while the aisle was full as well.  That would be too much if it were full of the little kids it was designed for, and adults are something else.  In the evening I went around with Samantha to take GPS points then told Ixim about my adventures from the day.  She laughed hysterically out of disbelief while advising me not to do it again J  I think it was a good bonding time.  Tomorrow I again step into the reality of doing interviews in Paquip.

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