Impressions of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico

Flight to Flores

Pulls away from gate, people
Still walking down aisle.

Overhead panel
Pops out on takeoff, dangling
On wires, jangling nerves.

Coke or Gallo beer?
Two minutes to finish can,
Then prepare to land.


Cab rattles across
Potholed causeway to tiny,
Cobblestoned lake isle.

Two friends smile down from
A second-floor balcony.
"Welcome to Flores."

Stroll around island
In five minutes, DO NOT PASS
GO. We've "done" Flores!

Kids play half court in
Central plaza. Reggae shakes
Down the dusty air.

Hamburguesas and
Spaguetis abound. I opt
For the house chicken.


Temples, more temples,
With giant steps. Ultimate
Stairmaster workout.

Like icebergs they peek
Out from a green sea, chalk-faced,
Laden with vultures.

No railings, no signs.
Free from those litigious types,
Free to slip and die!

Dusk in Great Plaza.
Spider monkeys rustling trees,
Parrots swoop about.

Border Crossing

Pre-dawn. We board a
Blue Bird school bus parked next to
Empty market stalls.

Packed three to a seat
We diesel along dirt roads,
Silent, half dreaming.

Stopped twice by police--
ID check. Some forced outside,
Not all are returned.

Daylight reveals large
Swaths cut for ranching, an oil
Pipeline, karstic hills.

Switch to wooden skiff.
Lazy afternoon ride down
Río San Pedro.

Hawks, herons, and ducks.
Skimming my toes on surface,
Mindful of 'gators.

River border post.
Dock to get our passports stamped.
Mexican sunset.


Temple walls covered
With glyphs and figures--tales of
Birth, conquest, death, praise.

Temple of the Cross:
Child Prince dances, arms askew,
Before his mother.

In the damp, cool crypt
Serpents, jaguars, quetzals ring
The sarcophagus.

Palace courtyard: Framed
By fallen walls, vista of
Yucatan's flatland.

Roadside food: Hand-made
Tortillas, grilled meat, salsa,
Fresh cilantro, lime.

Mexican Bus

First-class bus to San
Cristóbal. Four bucks, four hours.
Movie included.

Desperado plays.
Spanish subtitles. Sharp curves.
Window vomiting.

San Cristóbal de las Casas (Jovel)

Girl hawking dolls of
Subcomandante Marcos,
One for a peso.

Follow cilantro
Scent to market. Buy handful
Of dried serranos.

The Church at San Juan Chamula

Sun shafts descend through
Incense smoke. Fresh pine needles
Thickly carpet floor.

Worshippers kneel, pray
In sing-song phrase, faces lit
By votive candles.

A belch. Then some more.
Pause in litany to swig
A redemptive Coke.

Some prefer Pepsi,
Others Mirinda. The rich
Even go for beer.

Expelling evil
Ghosts with a resounding burp,
"Coke is the Answer!"


River valley with
Terraced hillsides. Volcano
Hulks in the V notch.

Heroic mural
Of the pesticide sprayer
Echoed in real life.

Piles of yellow corn
Drying on rooftops, dark grains
Forming gap-toothed grins.

A band rehearses
One song ad infinitum.
Saxes out of tune.

Fuentes Georginas

Sulfur-tinged scalding
Cascade, algae billowing,
Cooking my stiff neck.

Verdant steam forest,
Oasis of life in these
Overfarmed mountains.

A bite of hot fried
Plantain at bus stop reveals
Sweet bean paste inside.

Lake Atitlán

Big grey lake ringed by
Smooth, symmetric volcanoes.
The sound of jet skis.


Sunset tints steam plume
From Fuego. Streets rendered

Two friends smile down from
A second-floor balcony.
"Adios, take care!"


February 7, 1996

Return to travel story list.
Copyright 1996, John Nagamichi Cho