Saturday, February 23, 2008


tea at los andes

A community of some 150 families have their homes on Finca Los Andes. Two full-time and a part-timer teach at the primary school. High School is down on the coastal plane. The finca funds scholarships to University. The young woman who greets me and shows me to my room studies business management.
Jim Hazard is out on the finca. I sit in what was my Uncle's sittingroom and explain myself to Olga Hazard.
Olga's blood lines reach south from Mexico to Colombia. She is a warm woman, kind and gentle- yet steel must lie at her core. There is steel in any woman who survived the clandestine war and possesses the courage to create a life up here on a volcano that was guerrilla territory.
Guerrillas entered the house when Mark and Helen were here. The leader addressed Mark as Enginerio in recognition of the hydroelectric system Mark designed and installed. In describing the incident, Mark told me that Helen behaved “Very well”
Though a Scot, Mark was schooled at Eton and was very much an Englishman. Very well was high praise.
My Aunt Helen created the garden that stretches beyond the window. Seed for the camellias came from the Botanical gardens at Kew, London. My uncle built a relationship with Kew. He sent orchids from the cloud forest to the orchid house.
The relationship was useful.
Mark was keen to plant tea at Los Andes (none was grown in Central America). I smuggled 20 kilos of seed from Kenya to England. I don't recall the name of the botanist at Kew whose name my Uncle told me to quote should I have difficulty at Heathrow airport. Mention of Kew was sufficient. Mark had a connection at the Guatemalan Embassy in London: the seed was forwarded to Guatemala as Diplomatic baggage.


An old man slithers down the bank. He has one upper tooth. I have none. He has no lower teeth. I have five. My five are vaguely white. His one tooth is dark green at the gum fading to yellow at its peak.
Am I visiting Don Jim?
Yes, I am visiting Don Jim.
Had he known my uncle?
Certainly he knew my uncle. My uncle aided him during the time of the guerrillas. The old man left the finca at the time of the guerrillas. He had to leave. I am uncertain why. Lack of teeth impairs his diction and I am moderately deaf. Added to which I am astride a bike with the motor running.
I nod in understanding of that which I don't understand and ask directions to the house.
The old man points this old man uphill.
The house is white and overlooks an acre of lawn and trees and flowering shrubs.Look a little further (sixty Ks) and the darker blue way below is the Pacific Ocean. A woodpecker pecks a rowdy tattoo.


The road is cobble. A light breeze stirs the rubber trees and small spits of sunlight penetrate the canopy. Trees are pale grey. Knife wounds scar te bark. White gum oozes into cups.
The road climbs out of the plantation. A culvert cuts through pale red earth. Coffee bushes are dark green, multiple stems. I helped Charlie Zagaritis introduce multiple stem pruning to East Africa. Another memory opens: playing rummy at the Greek Club in Arusha, Tanganika. The Korea War was over: no need for sand bags; the sisal boom had turned to bust. Coffee was king. Multiple stem pruning increased yield.
Why was I in East Africa?
Because I wasn't in Guatemala. That is the easy answer. Another would be that I had no education, no qualification, and was searching for my father. My father settled in Kenya prior to World War 1. He died when I was five. I have no memories of him. Searching for other people's memories? Risky thoughts when riding a small city bike on slippery cobbles up a volcano...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


cobbles through rubber
entrance to finca los andes


My mother's brother, Mark owned a plantation on the high slopes of the volcanoe that dominates Lake Atitlan. In my early twenties, Mark invited me to work on the plantation. A month later Mark changed his mind. I wasn't suitable. He was probably correct.
I have lived for fifty years with a What if?
What if has stopped me visiting Los Andes.
Eugenio has pressed me over the years. “You need to free your head...”
I am 75, an adult. I don't have much time. Eugenio is correct. I do need to free my head.
Mark sold the finca late in the clandestine war.
Jim and Olga Hazard are the owners. Jim has invited me to stay Friday night.
I ride down from Antigua to the coastal highway. Harvest time and smoke rises from vast tracts of sugar cane; farmers are burning leaf.
The road up to Santa Barbara heads straight for the reverse side of volcano Atitlan. This was guerrilla territory. A swing barrier bars the road. An armed guard asks my destination. My license number is recorded. Sugar gives way to brittle pasture. Boulders litter paddocks. Santa Barbara is one street, low houses, a few mini stores. The road is newly concreted beyond the village. The white central line weaves a little. Giant bamboo form a tunnel. Concrete gives way to a cobble. Tyres kick and slither over stones – dangerous to lose concentration.
Two locals riding a 250 trail bike ask my destination and beckon me to follow. We cross shallow fords and climb through rubber plantations. A loose feathery leaf-canopy softens the light. The air is cool and fresh with forest scent. Above towers the pyramid peak of Atitlan.
My guides pull in at a small modern house.
“Straight on,” they tell me. “You will see the entrance.'
They would have been young during the clandestine war.
Which side did they support?
Was my uncle the enemy?
Would I have been the enemy?


silly old man

I haven't ridden for two days. I haven't written for a week. I want to plead mental exhaustion. Truth is that I am a coward. Writing fact, or my perception of fact, is uncomfortable. Safer to hide in a foxhole...Or stick to writing fiction - though the novel I have with Clare (editor) is anything but safe. And riding this wretched bike, am I courting danger? Or have I, in my seventies, finally become an adult? Adult writers don't whine. Adult writers write.
Here goes: I have been invited to Finca Los Andes. I leave Antigua Guatemala early on 15th February. Erick photographs my departure and leads me out of town...