One of the things I’ve learned in the many years I’ve worked on this site is that my family has a habit of following in the wake of its ancestors, even if the followers were reluctant to admit it. Our trips to the Bahamas were in the wake of Chet’s SPA trips; our moving to Palm Beach followed Chet and Myrtle by seven years, and on and on. My wife and I managed to repeat this with a trip to an entirely different place–Guatemala–but how we got there is an entirely different story.
In the early 1950’s my mother and father departed on what she described as a “Banana Boat” from New Orleans. Their first stop was in Havana, before the Ugly Guy with a Cigar and Beard Whose Name Cannot be Spoken in Parts of Miami.
After that they went to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and from there ascended up to Guatemala City. My guess is that they stayed in a guest house of the United Fruit Company, which ran the Banana Boat (with provision for passengers) and was very powerful in Guatemala in those days.
My parents, cutting an elegant figure, probably at Puerto Barrios.
Looking down at Guatemala City from Cerrito del Carmen, one of the first Catholic churches of any kind in the area still standing.
A view of the church at Cerrito del Carmen.
My mother (left) and (presumably) her Guatemalan hostess taking a walk in the park.
My father never talked about this trip; my mother was another story. They visited many sites in Guatemala, some of which we’ll see below. The one place she really didn’t like was Chichicastenango; it deeply offended her Baptistic sensibilities. That’s a good place to begin the transition to our own visit over Christmas 2019.
I joined the North Cleveland Church of God in 1983. The Church of God has a strong presence in Guatemala, and our members there don’t think any better of places like Chichicastenango than my mother did. One of the people I met at North Cleveland was Harvey Harkins, who was raised in our church’s first children’s home (which is celebrating its centenary this year) and was/is something of a legend in our church. Three years after I joined he announced he was going on a mission trip to Guatemala. The real nature of the mission trip became clear when he came home with a wife. We all thought Harvey a confirmed bachelor, so this development was a shock to us (as it happens it was to him, too.) They had a daughter, who married in 2017. In the meanwhile they’ve become like family to us, so when Christmas 2019 rolled around and it was time for the new son-in-law to meet the family in Guatemala, we were invited to go, which we did.
My parent’s photo of the Cathedral of Guatemala City, taken from the National Palace of Culture.
Our photo of the same place, December 2019, taken from a similar vantage point.
Constitution Plaza, from my parents’ visit.
Constitution Plaza from our visit, December 2019. Note the fountain the middle has lost three levels during an earthquake.
The National Palace of Culture, now a museum. Locals refer to it as the “Guacamole Building” due to its green colour; it was built with purely Guatemalan stone.
In a park in Zona 2 there is a relief map of the entire country. These pictures (from my parents’ visit) have intrigued me since I first saw them.
Another photo of the relief map in Zona 2, from my parents’ visit.
We tried to see the relief map. Unfortunately the park was closed; this was a close as we got.
It’s strange in a way to retrace your parents’ footsteps in this way, so many years after they came. But we went to some new places as well, and experienced new things.
The view from the roof of our host’s house. The night before, at Christmas midnight, we experienced from that same roof an awe-inspiring fireworks display all around the house. It’s one thing to watch one in one direction; to have it going off all around is breathtaking, only an IMAX Theatre would really do it justice beyond being there. They do it again to ring in the New Year.
The Water Volcano, which is near Antigua Guatemala, from my parents’ original trip. Volcanoes and earthquakes are a fact of life in Guatemala, and have moulded its history and people.
El Arco de Santa Catalina, Antigua Guatemala.
San José Catedral in Antigua Guatemala.
Coffee plant, Antigua Guatemala. Coffee is a big deal in Guatemala and I supported the place by drinking a lot of it.
Our bus to Quetzaltenango and Lake Atitlán. Our hosts chartered it; they went above and beyond the call of duty to show us the country and make us feel welcome.
Late Atitlán from an elevated view. It’s a stunning vista and well worth the trip.
The waterfront of Panajachel along the shores of Lake Atitlán. The lake is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but Panajachel is one of the worst tourist traps I have ever seen.
Our guest house in Quetzaltenango. It was in a gated community, and the Guatemalans take that seriously: note the electrified barbed wire in the background. In the red is Patty Harkins, whose coming to the US (as Harvey’s wife) changed our lives for the better.
Getting into hot water at the Fuentes Gegorianas near Quetzaltenango. These springs are highly regarded by the Guatemalans for their medicinal properties, and many take advantage of them.
Christian stickers abound in Guatemala, more so than in the “Bible Belt.” At the top is “Jesus My Faithful Friend” and on the bumper is “God bless my route.” Modelling this is Donna Harkins Glass and Chris Glass. This was not only Chris’ first trip out of the US; it was his first time to fly!
Two love birds, from my parents’ original trip. I posted this on Facebook when Chris and Donna got engaged.
A view from our hotel. Guatemala City is in a nice physical setting but sometimes it’s hard to see due to the haze.
Nativity Scene, Central Market, Guatemala City. Christian themed things were everywhere in Guatemala; some of the booths played praise and worship music.
Our host’s church, where he is a youth pastor. The explosive growth of Guatemala’s Evangelical and Pentecostal churches is something that doesn’t get much publicity but has changed the human landscape of the country. Given the Roman Catholic church’s penchant for going the way of Main Line churches, that transformation will probably continue.
One of the real eye-opening places we visited was Ciudad Cayalá, an upscale shopping and residential development in Guatemala City. As you can see, the Guatemalans go all out for Christmas, and this place really does it.
Our hosts in Guatemala, along with Donna and Chris towards the left and my wife on the right, at Ciudad Cayalá. They went above and beyond to make us welcome.
Another scene at Ciudad Cayalá, almost like a dream land.
More Christmas decorations at Ciudad Cayalá.
In Guatemala we found a beautiful country which, although with problems, is a place of charming people. I was encouraged by what I saw and experienced, especially as a Christian. When missionaries go out to do their work, their idea is to win those they encounter for Christ. What they may not consider is the fact that they are adding people to the church who will enrich the church with their presence. Pentecostal missionaries went to Guatemala with few resources, but the church is better for the harvest, and that’s something good to keep in mind moving forward.