Gringolandia

Gringo – A person usually thought of as white from a developed country such as Canada, the US, or somewhere in Europe. The term also refers to a tace with pineapple in it invented (this is what I heard at least) by a few female backpackers in Mexico some 30 odd years ago.

Guatemala is overrun by gringos. Or more accurately, Antigua and certain segregated parts of Lake Atitlan are overrun by gringos. When I told my host family here on the west coast of Guatemala I had been in Antigua, they corrected me saying that Antigua is in fact Gringolandia.  Some are snowbirds, that is, they are escaping from the cold northern winter. Some, however, are here to stay. The Lonely Planet describes Guatemala as a “magical place … (and when) people come, they stay.” And it’s true. Sometimes when you meet people here (often older  white people) and ask them where they are from, they will say Guatemala. Then they will clarify, “well actually I am from California (or insert other name here), but now I only spend a few months there!”

Some people are here to relax, enjoy retirement,  or their extended vacation in the most chilled out way possible. Some backpackers are here to party, smoke weed, and who knows what else. While in San Pedro, Faisal and I encountered several groups of drunk gringos wandering around the touristy areas of the town yelling obscenities (I say areas because the tourists are sectioned off in albeit the nicest area of town.)Other gringos are more enterprising; our hotel in San Pedro was owned by French Canadaians. In fact I had the impression that San Pedro was full of French Canadians until I met some Israeli’s who were convinced that San Pedro was full of Israelis. 

Besides foreign hotel and restaurant owners, I also saw hippy gringos ( a special breed of gringo that Lake Atitlan fosters) competing with locals to sell handmade jewelry on the streets. I met my favourite enterprising gringo when Faisal and I decided to go into a bookshop that bragged over 2700 but from the outside (and indeed from the inside too) looked like nothing more than a sketchy dingy room. When we worked up the the nerve to go in, we found an older white man who spoke English with an identified accent, chain smoked, had gray haid down to his belly button, and was incredibly dirty. Faisal, who detests smoke, lasted all of two seconds in the shop, and coughed while he waited for Ilona and I outside. Despite the apparent sketchiness of the bookstore, he had the best books of any bookstore I had visited during this trip. I bought Casino Royale by Ian Flemming from him. 

The last kind of gringos that I have met are the benevolent gringos. On  Faisal and I’s first day in Antigua we met up with our friends from the boat and they showed us some neat nooks and crannies of Antigua. They also introduced us to their friend, Deit (pronounced like the active ingredient in mosquito repellent). Deit is an energetic woman who fundraises for NGO’s in Guatemala, is constantly networking, rides her bike everywhere, and just celebrated her 75th birthday. As we came into her small dwelling she fussed over us telling us to sit down and bragging about her new  plastic-free water filter. She took an immediate liking to Faisal, telling him that skinny, dark, and curly hair was just her type. She sat down and talked to us about all the projects that she was involved in. One of them was called WINGS and focused on giving Guatemalan women family planning options. Another was a project that collected plastic garbage from the street, stuffed them in used plastic coke or wattle bottles, and then used them as the base for building houses. 
“Sorry to talk so much, but I’ve raised a lot of money in the past by just talking.” I love her! 

Diet invited me to a dinner that night that she organizes on Sunday nights called “ladies of a certain age.” I wasn’t of that certain age, but she said she would make an exception. I asked if I could bring Faisal and she said, “He doesn’t even look like a girl and that is a good thing!” That meant no. I was told to meet at a certain corner at 530 gringo time. When I got there there was a crowd of 19 cotton tops (is that the word?), they had broken their record today. The oldest women there was a stylish yet alarmingly skinny woman named Audrey who still worked as a caterer. 
“This december nearly was the end of me,” she said. “I had four events to cater, one right after the other, and the last one was for 50 people.” 
I felt impressed that this 82 year old was doing anything at all. All of the women seemed to be connected to some NGO project. As they talked, I noticed a certain lack of men in their conversations. I asked if any of them lived with anyone here, like other women or their partners/husbands. They all chuckled to themselves I was informed that they were all divorced except for Audrey who was widowed. Diet laughed and quoting one of the other women, said, “the biggest mistake I ever made was getting married!” All the women laughed for a long time knowingly. 

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