Going local

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: We’re currently in Guatemala. Today we’re off to see the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal; I’ve always wanted to see them, but going at this exact moment in my life may prove to have been a mistake. I fully anticipate dying of heatstroke. We spent most of the week in El Salvador, where I found our hotel about as comfortable as a hair shirt, so I thought I’d pull out a rant I jotted down this time last year, at another cranky-making hotel, in Fes, Morocco. Also, occasionally I need to remind myself that being cold is a real thing.

Going local

I like to think we’re the kind of deliberate, thoughtful people who are careful to put our money into the local economy, but sometimes we just stay at the Hilton. I love a Hilton. The Riad we’re currently in? Definitely not a Hilton. I’d give up my right arm, or maybe even one of my children, for a Hilton right about now.

For starters, it’s cold. Everything is tiled and high-ceilinged, and so very cold. It’s beautiful, but so. damn. cold.

Because it’s a Riad, and these are historical buildings, designed around an internal courtyard, there’s little-to-no natural light. This is the second one we’ve stayed in, so we got smart this time and asked for a room that opens onto the roof-top terrace, so we have some outside light in the middle of the day, but the nicer, internal rooms, and the communal areas, have only artificial (read: dim) lighting.

In other words, it’s cold and dim. Welcome to the 19th century. Have you ever dreamt of going back in time? I hope you like sweaters.

Our room has one of those useful pod-style coffee makers, but no pods, no cups, no glasses, no drinking vessel of any kind. We ran out of toilet paper this morning. The shower leaks. The only chair is a straight-backed wooden torture device that discourages actual sitting. The safe is locked; we can’t get it open in order to use it. Breakfast is sort of . . . whenever. Turns out that means whenever it’s convenient for the staff. Yesterday it was white bread, in four different forms. I have to trek down 2 flights of stairs to get more hot water after every cup of tea. Mostly, though, we’re just cold, and those of us who are sunshine-dependent are getting a wee bit cranky.

Sometimes authenticity is highly overrated.

When we first arrived in Morocco, we spent a month in Essaouira, a small town on the Atlantic coast. We had a beautiful apartment in a brand-new building, fully furnished by IKEA, with all the modern conveniences. Our balcony looked out over the corniche, and the beach. The weather was a bit chilly, but we had several space heaters. It was not a problem. It was also completely generic—we could’ve been anywhere in the world. IKEA has that effect. We certainly weren’t in the medina. We wandered through the medina every day, and that was enough.

We’re currently debating where to stay when we go to Lima in a couple of months; Airbnb seems like an excellent bargain there, but then we go back to the weather forecast, and kick it around some more. We have no idea what to expect in Peru, but I know my limits, and in case I had forgotten them (sometimes I do), the last few days in Morocco have been a pointed reminder. If the weather is going to be cold and damp, we’ll probably be happier if there’s at least a chance of some kind of heating system.

Our desire to go local, stay local, be authentic is all well and good until the wheels come off, & “authentic” bumps up against the edges of our tolerance. Hot water is one of our necessary items. Local people don’t have hot water? I’m very sorry to hear that, but that’s where I step right off the “local” path and revert to my own authentic identity: privileged white lady, just passing through.

From my writer’s notebook: Because we’re in Maya territory at the moment, I’ve been reading a book about the two white explorers who ‘discovered’ Maya culture in the 19th century, John Lloyd Stephens (who later worked on the Panama Railway) and Frederick Catherwood. Stephens, it seems, ‘bought’ the Mayan city of Copan (in Honduras) for fifty dollars, intending to move it, by ship, to museums in the US. Luckily, his plan didn’t work out, but so many similarly reprehensible schemes did. That’s why we now have European and American museums stuffed full of antiquities, while the actual countries they were taken from are left with little-to-none of their own cultural/historical patrimony. And the battles rage on . .  .

Take care,

Lisa

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