5/23/2008 04:17:00 pm

Monks, Football and Riot Police

Posted by Unknown |

Yesterday was City day. Jo organised a taxi for us to take us into the city in the morning. Mum asked her why we couldn't just organise one ourselves, to which Jo replied that if you get the wrong one you get kidnapped. Personally I think that's pretty bad business practice.

Chances are most of the taxi drivers don't kidnap you. Or at least they don't kidnap most of their customers as I suspect it's rather hard to get them to pay the fare once you've stuck a video of them on YouTube then buried them in the desert.

After de-blinging for the city (so you don't get robbed) we met our taxi driver, Eric. He was very nice, didn't blindfold any of us, and dropped us off right where we wanted him too. He even spoke to us in Spanish for a bit while we smiled and said "Si, gracias."

We met Victor outside the palace that was built in the 1920s by escaped criminals who figured if they build a palace so they'd be mistaken for workmen rather than convicts.*

In the square out the front they were holding some kind of festival, I think. The Police had blocked off the streets and there were short men and people in business suits dropping explosives down a tube which would then make a mighty bang, kinda like fireworks with all smoke, bang and no fire. It was impressive for a little while then annoying as you'd keep jumping and feeling embarrassed that none of the locals even flinched.

There was much other stuff going on in the Square that wasn't part of any festival, just normal stuff, a man preaching about his miracle medicine, some native Australian birds that tell your fortune and a bloke selling goats. Which is kinda like meeting someone on Martin Place who's holding a cattle auction. But I say why not! We need more livestock in the cities of the world.

Victor took us to meet Jo and her work mate, Tracy, in Guatemala City's only Vegetarian Cafe. It just like Newtown except with more Spanish and less pierced septums. The food was good. I recommend the orange patty thing with the similar coloured sauce if you ever go.

Once lunch was done, we were left alone to explore the square. We didn't get to see the palace as it was closed for other tours (we think) so we checked out the Cathedral. It was full of praying people and statues of Jesus and his mates. I really like seeing Cathedrals getting used by the general populace. I wonder what has brought them here to pray. Are they there out of dedicated commitment or last ditch desperation? How many are praying for dead relatives and who has come for blessing in love? Who is just there because they love Jesus?

We went to some markets which were full of shops selling the same four tourist items. The highlight was the shop selling little statues of sexual positions next to little statues of the nativity.

We finished our time in the city centre sitting in the square eating bad ice cream while I deteriorated from the cold I brought with me from Sydney. Eric soon picked us up again and took us to visit Jo. He apologised to us because he had his wife in the car with him. We insisted we didn't mind. He said "I love you very much, my wife." which I thought was nice. Mum insisted to us that that she actually wasn't his wife, she could tell from the body language, and perhaps that they seemed like they may have been excited to be in each other's company.

Once we got to see Jo's work (and meet some friendly people) she took us to meet her monk friend at the monastery around the corner. We were greeted at the door by a man in full monk regalia, the cassock, sandals, rope belt and everything. He showed us in and went got Jo's friend, the head monk, who's name I have forgotten, who, much to my disappointment, was wearing an Adidas shirt and rather dull pants, but was otherwise very friendly and hospitable (we actually didn't see another monk looking monk while we were there, I think maybe the monk we met was on door opening ministry and he's only dressed like that so that people know they've come to the right place). Head Monk was the kind of monk you'd like to meet if you were lost in the mountains with no food and it was snowing and you'd stumbled across his monastery. He'd bring you in for some warm broth and a soft bed, and the disappointment at not finding him robed right would be even more minimal. In fact I think he has such a ministry to the homeless of Guatemala city, I was much impressed.

But as nice as he was, he had no regard for my sister's translating duties, and would dictate a short novel before pausing to let my sister tell us what he said. I think Jo may have edited him a little as she wouldn't take nearly as long to tell us what he said. For this I was thankful as I was slowly dying from my runny nose and overwhelming desire to sleep and was happy just to get the gist of what he was saying.

Head Monk took us on a tour of the monastery which was had lots of people hiding in different rooms, but was rather sparse and tatty. It made me wonder why it is that it's always the people who are doing the best work who have the least amount of money. You can fund a multi-million dollar soft drink advertising campaign but you can't properly fund some friendly, loving men who want to help homeless and elderly people.

For our final excitement of the day, Victor had decided to take Dad and I to see a soccer match. It was the final of the Red Team against the White Team (as you can see I was well informed). This was quite exciting, as Latin America is known for it's passionate soccer crowds. It's also known for it's soccer violence, which Victor warned us "could be a very big problem." However if you remember my excitement about the prospect of riots, it meant that I was definitely up for a soccer match.

When we arrived we were shown into a car park, which, once we were in it, turned out to be full. No worries, everyone just stopped their engines and left their cars in the middle of the road, as we also did.

We got out and joined the hordes of local fans heading into the stadium. We were frisked once just before entering the stadium, and once after entering the stadium. The stadium it self was large, well lit and roofless. There are very clear areas set aside for fans of the each team, I suspect so they don't kill each other. The stadium is divided into four parts, of which the Reds (our team) got three. The Whites were shoved down the end near one of the goals. The fence between the field and the crowd and between each section would have been about 5 metres high and was topped with razor wire. You kinda get the feeling they may have had problems before. It a little like that bar the Blues Brothers play where there is wire mesh over the front of the stage and everyone throws their beer bottles at them, except this was on a much larger scale.

The other wonderful thing I noticed is that, unlike in Australia they have very few rules for the fans. Mexican waves are most certainly allowed, and well participated in (except by the white fans who just shouted at the Reds while everyone booed). Plus pyrotechnics seem to be encouraged. There were drums full of fireworks right in the middle of the crowd, that just seemed to go off at random times or when a goal was scored. Compared to Australia where fireworks have to be right in the middle of the field, these were on the seat next to someone. Plus lots of people had flares with them to just pull when they felt like it, and when the game started we were almost gassed to death by masses of smoke flares attached to the fence in front of us. It was wonderful. How I wish OH&S were non-existent in Australia.

During the game there was a team of riot police standing next to the field at all times. Plus as soon as the ref would blow the whistle for half time or full time, he and the two linesmen would sprint to the middle of the pitch as four secuirty men in full riot gear also sprinted to the middle. The security men would surround the refs and escort them off the field. The would enter the field in the same way. It was rather nuts. You got the feeling that perhaps things get a little more crazy than at an Australian game.

The game itself was pretty fun. Our team one 3-1. It was tense for while as the Reds dominated the first half, but came out sloppy in the second, allowing the Whites to score a goal to even out the scores. In the end though the Reds came through, and everyone in the three quarters of the stadium was happy. The Whites were not so happy and attacked the players, though I'm not sure which team they attacked as we'd left the stadium by then.

After we met some of Victor's friends (one who was mortified that I came from Australia but had never learnt to scuba dive) he took us home, free from stab wounds and happy to have seen a Latin American football game. It was a good day. I'd give it 4 out of 5.

*I may have not got the facts quite right, it may have been built in the 1930s.