You learn a lot about a country by experiencing the culture in the city. You learn a lot more by traveling through it.
In the cities and anywhere else tourists gather, like the popular Restaurante Katok between Guatemala City and Chichicastenango, you see a population full of vendors. T-Shirts, wooden toys, dolls, bead and jade jewelry and fruit can be found without any struggle. You’ll also find a fair share of American goods, goods purchased and resold from other cities, pretty much anything you set your mind to. Children call out “Fruta” to passers-by in hopes of selling their cheap wares, unless they’re experienced enough to walk between where you’re going and ask you personally. Step out of the gas station near a major city and you’re sure to be approached by a man selling bootleg DVD’s or a woman selling baskets.
But ride the buses, most of which are old American school buses bought cheaply and driven to Guatemala, in any direction and you’ll see a different story. You’ll see homes of cinderblocks and sheet metal with garages consisting of wooden posts and a blue tarp. In the Sierra Madres you’ll see people walking across the mountain roads without shoes carrying bundles of firewood on their heads. You’ll see emaciated dogs and cows walking freely and eating whatever they can find.
But even in rural Guatemala the commercial is prevalent. Copyright enforcement seems to be nonexistent, so Winnie the Poo or Sonic the Hedgehog of the remodeled American buses is common, as is seeing Porky Pig shilling pork rinds. Companies hang banners for cell phone ads along the road, but they also paint advertisements onto houses, freestanding walls and even rocks, although they’ll have to compete for space with political parties.
Behind all of it in southwest Guatemala is the brilliant mountain scenery. Fields of corn hang on the sides of mountains and everything from pine trees to bamboo to cactus can be seen in the fields. For the traveler, seeing a banner advertising cell phone plans for gringos, amigos and extremos right next to a farm that has been active for more than a hundred years can seem odd. For Guatemalans, it just seems like a way of life.