Six days in Antigua, Guatemala, passed quickly. In the mornings I concentrated on visiting local sights, in the afternoons I studied four hours with a private teacher in the Spanish language school, San Jose de Viejo, and in between I became acquainted with many new persons.
The most impressive sight was the Macadamia experimental station, Valhalla, owned by my new Servas friends, Larry and Emilia. Larry is originally from California, where he worked as a fireman after fighting in Vietnam. However, due to some injuries he became the recipient of a disability pension at the age of 32. After that he engaged in studies of nature on his own. At some point he observed that it was possible to cultivate macadamia nuts in Guatemala. Together with his Guatemalan wife, Emilia, they started Valhalla macadamia farm. Emilia is equally concerned about global warming and passionate about assisting indigenous people in developing self-sustaining agriculture, as well as educating the public about the environment.
Macadamia is originally a tree from Australia. It has been studied extensively due to its health effects and its adaptability. Larry and Emilia were lucky to inherit one of the best gene pools of macadamia from the California Macadamia Society in 1984. That gave them a good basis to grow macadamia trees that don’t need to be grafted.
Now after many years of hard work, Valhalla prospers from the sale of all kinds of products made from macadamia-nuts as well as blueberries. According to Larry, Lancome and Nivea use macadamia extract in their anti-aging products as well. During breakfast, Larry told me proudly that their farm was awarded the prestigious International Human Rights Consortium medal for their contribution to the Environment, in 2004. Due to his deteriorating health, Larry spends his days now entertaining visitors and “playing with his nuts”, as he puts it.
Another friend-couple I found through Servas are Daniel and Maria Elena, who invited me to a Sunday lunch. They live in a large, modern house close to the Radisson hotel. They also run a Bed and Breakfast on the side. Daniel moved from the United States to Guatemala over 40 years ago. He found his Guatemalan wife much later. Photographer by profession, he travels around the world mainly in connection with photo exhibitions. His wife, Maria Elena’s social work entails travel within Guatemala. She is especially concerned about the school sector that is severely underfinanced. This underfunding results in many children not having access to even primary education.
Almost every morning and evening I visited my Jewish friend Deet. She has created a meaningful life managing with only 500 dollars a month. After four weeks staying at home due to a hip injury, Deet starts to get bored even though she can follow and contribute to many good causes over the Internet. At her place, I have met many American expats and learned about their lives. These people all decided to live in a warmer and cheaper environment, as well as volunteer for social and environmental causes.
Yesterday I travelled almost four hours on partly serpentine-like roads full of potholes from Antigua to San Pedro, a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I carried a meter-long machete, which I had promised to deliver to the Canadian, Reed, I had met a couple of days earlier at Olga’s (my homestay place). Reed had ordered a handcrafted leather sheath for the machete, but it was not ready before he travelled with his family further to San Pedro. Hence, I brought it with me.
The machete served me well in the minivan. My fellow passengers admired it, and called me the “Finnish Samurai”. I was sitting next to an interesting young guy from California who entertained me by showing me lots of fantastic photos from his earlier trips to Guatemala. He also gave me much insightful information about good places where to eat in San Pedro as well as where to get a hold of weed. Not that I was interested…
After some time I felt how the Guatemalan man sitting on my other side started rubbing his ankle against mine. I locked eyes with him, pointed at my machete, and said:
“In Finland women cut off the head of a man, who without an invitation approaches them”. I know, it was not said very diplomatically (and not totally true either), but he got the message.
After a well-slept night I am ready to immerse myself in life in San Pedro. Below find a couple of links where you can see some of the places I visited in Antigua: