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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Guatemala was a strange place.

Sometimes it was magic, sometimes it was mysterious, sometimes it was confusing, and a few times it was downright scary. I’m still working through an awful lot of photographs. I’ll probably make a few more blog entries on the topic, along with more photos and some slightly more organized and coherent thoughts. In the meantime, however, this is a dump from my point and shoot camera.

The Canon S90 represented about a fifth of the shots I took by quantity. It was with me probably three times more often than the 5DII, though I found myself taking fewer pictures with it. This was partially due to the barrier for entry for me to take a photo being far more with the point and shoot (I know, that makes no sense, but if the results are going to have to look like crap, the subject better be impressive). The rest comes down to technical matters with light sensitivity, autofocus capability, and being forced into shooting single exposures at a time. The S90 is just not fast enough for rapid street work.

Still, as a point and shoot, it often shines, given the right conditions.

Throughout the holy week in Antigua, carpets or rugs are built in the streets from pine needles, sawdust, vegetables, flowers, buttons … whatever makes sense. These are holy tributes, and as my friend put it, “I don’t know you if you step on one. You are dead to me, and whatever happens to you, you deserve.”

So these rugs are built up, some take a few minutes, some take all night. Then, a procession goes over them, some folks with brooms shove them all into a pile, a bulldozer scoops it into a truck, and then people start making new rugs. This goes on for a week. Rugs, processions, rugs, processions. I’ll give you some more pictures in later entries, but if you haven’t experienced something like this, it’s really a sort of mind-bending experience.

One thing I have very few pictures of is the constant police/military presence. There are things I’m not going to take pictures of. One of them is folks with submachine guns in a country in which it’s trivial to make someone disappear forever. So, in all my pictures, assume there’s somebody with a submachine gun just outside of view. It’s not strictly accurate, but Guatemala is a bit different than what I’m used to. Anything nicer than a fast food restaurant had a hired gun out front, and shops with any merchandise of value featured attendants who were all packing heat.

I was never hassled or bothered by anybody with a gun, whether it be a pistol or an AK-47. I didn’t feel unsafe around the constant militaristic presence, but the point, I think is that it’s clear at all times that you’re not in Kansas anymore. If you think the armed presence in something like Grand Central seems militaristic, you have no idea what this particular third world is like.

We spent most of our time in Antigua, which is up in the highlands. If I understand correctly, it’s normally a bit on the sleepy side, but gets extremely busy during carnivals and big holidays, with Semana Santa (when we were there) being a particularly crazy time.

Going down towards the pacific and the black sand beaches, there was a constant interleaving stream of blatant commercialism and abject poverty. There would be gas stations with booths, tents, loud music, models, and all sorts of madness.

A few hundred feet later it’s a shanty town.

Or a river of shit.

Yet, even in ruins, Guatemala had the ability to be astoundingly beautiful in an almost effortless way.

Every window is barred. Every homestead is behind a wall and gate. There are no front porches, just walls, behind which the “civilization” hides. Barbed wire is pervasive, if not downright oppressive. You’re inside a compound or you’re out on the street. There is no intimacy gradient.

Speaking of the roads, in Antigua, they are dangerous. There are no traffic laws that anybody follows; yield is not a word anybody down there knows. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, sidewalks are treacherous (and too small for anybody of my size) and the roads are destructive. There is no respect for property on the streets; I was in a van that used a shiny new BMW across the street as a device to slow momentum and assist in backing into a villa. This left a rather severe and expensive amount of damage to the BMW, but nobody seemed to care or be concerned. “They shouldn’t have parked there if it mattered to them” seems to be the sentiment.

The tuk-tuk is an ostensibly dangerous means of transport; the drivers are certainly menaces. My ride in one was relatively tame, but given that there were three of us and we were probably good for a third of a ton, it may be that the little cart may have been fighting a losing battle against its mass. One our companions witnessed a tuk tuk driver toppled by a car, injured badly … and again nobody really seemed to care. It’s a strange place, like I say.

Markets are pervasive, ranging from the tourist trap…

To the evening snack shop.