Antigua Guatemala 1993
Moana. October 22 1993
March 1993, Finca de San Cayetano
Moana and I were so happy doing Spanish lessons, enjoying the friendship of and social activities with other travellers and with our teachers, that we decided we would not venture out to explore the rest of Central America but spend our whole time in Guatemala. I stayed for 6 months. Moana stayed for over a year, eventually working as office manager for the Cervantes School. We took weeks off from our studies to travel and explore the region, but always came back to Antigua for our lessons and to see people with whom we had made friends.
Towards the end of my stay, Moana and I did one month’s volunteer work at a child care centre on a struggling coffee and banana plantation. It was owned and managed by indigenous Guatemalans under cruel opposition from other non-indigenous farmers. There had been raids where their equipment had been stolen or damaged beyond repair, and a level of fear that was evident in their need to make armed patrols of the grounds every night. The groups of foreign volunteers were there, in essence, to provide an extra level of security, for the many families that lived and worked on the plantation. Each day, we played games with the children, made things with them, taught basic literacy and had a lot of fun.
13 February 1993
February 1993, Antigua Guatemala
Moana and I were settling into a daily routine at the Cervantes School in Antigua, where we did our Spanish language lessons. Initially we boarded with separate families in order to, we hoped, encourage us to speak less English. We found that each of our families had up to 6 foreign students at a time. The only language we had in common with our fellow boarders, who came from all over the world, was English. We quickly gave up the idea that we would progress better if we lived apart. Moana joined me where I was staying and we walked to the school together to start lessons at 8 am each day, finishing at midday. At some point we decided to take our daily walk home via an uphill detour to El Cerro de la Cruz, a lookout above the town with a magnificent view of the volcano, Volcán de Agua. The first few times the steep track nearly killed us. By the end of my 6 months there, we tripped up with little exertion. I think neither of us had been, or have since been, fitter.
Once again no photobooths were in evidence in Latin America but yet again I needed an id photo. After only 4 weeks in Guatemala, Carlos, the director of our school advised me to start the process of getting my visa extended. I still had two months to go but he had experience with the ins and outs of the immigration department and thought 8 weeks early, wasn’t early enough. This photo was taken at his insistence. I was not pleased at his nagging, as I had just had a home-made haircut from a new English friend Justine and additionally was suffering from a nasty coldsore.
As it turned out Carlos was right and the nightmare of getting the visa extended only ended after 3 or 4 trips to the capital, long waits in multiple queues per visit, payments for paperwork, further payments for stamps, finger-printing and finally, a small bribe. I received the official documentation in my passport just two days before I was due to leave. In all it took me five months to get it sorted.
14 January 1993
January 1993, London
Moana and I had decided to start our journey in Guatemala. We hoped to do Spanish lessons in Antigua before heading off to explore the region. In the months leading up to our departure there was something nagging at the back of my mind, that I chose to ignore until my last day in the UK. Moana and I had organised our tickets through an agency that also researched whether we needed any visas for our trip. Well, they said they had looked into it. Despite them knowing I was travelling on an Australian passport they had failed to check entry requirements for my nationality and I, stupidly, had also failed to check.
Del Holbrook had organised a lovely farewell lunch for Moana and I, to which Helen White had been invited. After Helen arrived, something she said made me realise what my nagging concern actually was – did I really NOT need a visa? I was encouraged by all to make a phone call to check, the result of which was an abrupt departure without my lunch, a quick set of identity snaps in a photobooth at Victoria Station and an emergency interview at the Guatemalan Embassy to get the visa I should have organised weeks earlier.