Guatemalan orchids… and more bad timing

This post is for Aunt Annie, because at the beginning of every spring, Lisa (Shane´s mom) makes me go around her garden with my camera and then send pictures to Aunt Annie to show her how things are coming along.

Long story short, I was on my way down towards Guatemala City from Semuc Champey, and 1.5 hours southwest of Lanquin you come to Coban. Most people breeze on through, and you more or less should, unless that is, you want to stop at Vivero Verapaz. Vivero, meaning plant nursery.

So I looked like such a jerk showing up with my huge backpack to pay Juan the groundskeeper my 10Q to give me the tour and let me take an obnoxious amount of pictures of some stupid flowers. But they weren´t just any flowers. Vivero Verapaz is a famous orchid nursery. They are the home of the rare monja blanca – Guatemala´s ¨white nun¨ national flower. One of my favorite travel writers, Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, would have loved to visit here. Except that she would have known not to visit in May, because everyone knows that the rare monja blanca blooms in December, right?

I´m noticing a pattern:

1) Whale sharks in Placencia, Belize. I was a week early.

2) Visiting South Africa last May, arriving with flip flops, sundress, bathing suit. Seriously, how cold can African winter be? Well, we all know how the rest of that story went.

3) One that was particularly classic, and maybe the event to which we can attribute the birth of the LaValette travel curse of bad timing– this one time, my dad took me to Vienna to check out the Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish riding school. I have been obsessed with horses my entire life, from the My Little Pony collection numbering 100+, to years of lessons, to finally working on a horse ranch out in the Wild West, it was finally time to see the cream of the horse crop, or at least I thought it was. Of course when we arrived, I was all giddy and out of breath from the circuitous route we took over there, and we were informed that, naturally, duh, the horses are currently enjoying their vacation on the southern coast of Spain.

4) Bringing my tent to Central America at the beginning of rain season also wasn´t my finest moment of genius. I´ve had two major innundations so far, so totally flooded that I was forced to evacuate and sleep out in the open with the merciless mosquitoes. I was thinking it was the beginning of the rain season so come on. Beginning or not, the rain season is obviously on.

5) And now the monja blanca.

Either way I manage to have a great time while traveling. Juan, pictured above, took me on a tour of the grounds. The first thing he did was to hand me an orchid to walk around with. Apparently it was a kind of a big deal sort of orchid, because it smells like chocolate, and he was telling me that most orchids do not have a fragrance. Cool.

To top that, Vivero Verapaz is home to rare species of ¨mini-orchids.¨ Yep, they were small.

Juan´s arm is here holding the tiger orchid. This was my favorite.

The monja blanca may not have been in bloom, but Belize´s national flower sure was. Which is weird, because I never saw the black orchid while I was in Belize. Juan referred to this flower endearingly as something to do with a ¨pulpo´, which is an octopus in Spanish. I can see why he would call the flower his little ¨Pulpito.¨

So in other words, when I travel, I quite often don´t get to see the things I set out to see. One learns how to find other things to enjoy when traveling, even when there is a mishap or disappointment with the main attraction. Especially in Central America, you just accept everything for what it is, and try not to be too critical. I think back on a conversation I had with some guy at the Casa de la Iguana hostel in Livingston, Guatemala. I was griping about the 2.5 hour irksome walk down the putrid beach in order to get to Los Siete Altares. He asked if I enjoyed Los Siete Altares. I said of course. So he said just accept the fact that the cesspool of a beach had to be crossed in order to get to the beautiful swimming holes. So you have to take the good with the bad. I understand that.

Now that I have waxed philosphical and we have reached a higher level of maturity and understanding, I would still love to take this opportunity to vent about two cultural differences I still can´t get over:

1) Hours of business in Central America.
Today I was busy and couldn´t get lunch until 3ish. I should have known this was going to be a huge problem. I´m walking down the streets at 2:50, and everyone is slamming their doors in my face. I inquired at 3 different establishments and was turned away from each. So I decided I would have ice cream for lunch.

2) The size of ice cream sundae portions in Latin America.
I guess I understand now why we have obesity issues in the US. I had to beg for more whipped cream. I was pleading, entreating the lady making my ice cream. My lower lip quivered, and the lady couldn´t believe what I was asking. She looked at me like I had snakes coming out of my head. I swear I got about a teaspoon total of whipped cream. When I order up an ice cream sundae, I´m looking for a whipped cream mountain, and I want the chocolate syrup coming down the top of the whipped cream like an unstoppable lava flow, and I want buckets of sprinkles on top, kind of like the projectile rocks that come out of volcanoes. I even insisted I was happy to pay extra if she would please give me more than six sprinkles on top of my sundae. That was a no go. My obsession with condiments was not indulged today. I suppose the moral of the story is, if we were to continue on in the same line of reasoning as a few paragraphs ago, that I should just be really pleased that there even was an ice cream shop today. I mean seriously. I have only seen one ice cream shop in all of Central America, and it was today. It was really delicious. It was really exquisite excellent chocolate ice cream, and it was such an indulgent luxury. Yea, every country in the world has problems, but high quality ice cream sundaes is not a challenge with which the US must grapple. It is something we have truly mastered. When I get home I will make an absolute pig out of myself when my first opportunity to have a humongoid ice cream sundae rolls around. P.S. Can you imagine the look on the lady´s face when I told her, don´t worry, you can hold the cherry… (Maraschino cherries are just absolutely horrible. But the point is, they had them, which I guess is pretty awesome.)

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