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We promised mi mama a leisurely Saturday around La Antigua away from the madding crowds of the Puerto San Jose beaches and the onslaught of traffic generated by the one million Guatemalans headed back to Guatemala City this weekend after a long holiday break. “No se, you pick something, I don’t care what it is, I’m just bored,” she told us and, thus, gave us our mandate to entertain. Sidenote: Only my mother could be bored in her own country, find absolutely nothing interesting about a city in ruinas (“Somebody should really fix those walls or at least the streets because it’s hard on the cars and it’s hard on your back when you walk.”). So we took her to Finca Filadelfia (“¿Porque el monte, mija? I came from el monte!”) and San Felipe de Jesus, the home of the “Entombed Christ” with a lovely Gothic cathedral that made me reminisce about Gaudi and non-colonial architecture. San Felipe also happens to have one of the most animated mercados and creative vendors which included this woman selling shoes from the top of her car. “Tell them this is how we sell shoes in Guatemala,” she told me:
The food court inside the mercado was a much welcomed change of scenery from my recent dreaded visits to Miraflores during the holiday crunch.
Not a single complaint came out of mi mama while we were in el mercado, except the usual “¡Que caro! ¡Como si el mundo fuera solo en dólares!” “How expensive, as if the world was only in dollars!” She’s not quite used to La Antigua prices, so that’s a running complaint. In any case, I knew she was relatively content with the surroundings. Finca Filadelfia was another story. To be fair, mi mama is Americanized and fully acculturated (not assimilated) to American standards and way of life since she’s been there for more than thirty years after leaving Guatemala como una coyota of sorts. The last time she visited Guatemala was seven years ago and even that’s too soon. She promised it’ll be twice as long next time. The worst punishment that can be imposed on her is the lack of a hot shower, flushing toilets or clean tap water. Following that is not having a car, a YMCA or highways with clear big fonts that she can read and space out to while listening to Lola Beltran or JuanGa (Juan Gabriel to most). My mother likes “medium” everything and wants things to be highly customized to her tastes. So, like me, she’s from Guatemala, but she’s not really FROM here anymore, nor does she have the desire to have that distinction erased. In any case, she’s conflicted to say the least about most things Guatemalan, but Finca Filadelfia was very clearly a trampa or “rip off” to her. So I will tell it from her perspective and then I will present the other side from Maestro Rudy who balances out her view.
Things la Finca did wrong by mi mama’s standards:
(1) No à la carte menu on weekends. Because it was the weekend, the restaurant did not offer an à la carte menu, so it was either the Full Buffet for Q140 or the Meat Full Buffet for Q220. Mi mama was in disbelief, “You’re not serving from the menu?” “No seño.” Her next question was a reasonable one: “Do you offer a soup and salad option for people like me who are only mildly hungry?” The immediate answer was “No, señora, disculpe.” She was obviously dumbfounded by the response and then continued to look for other options. “I would be happy to pay just for a soup that is part of the full buffet and you can charge what is reasonable, but I cannot pay for an entire buffet that I know is not what I need,” she told the waiter. Again, “No, señora, eso no se puede.” So, she scratched her head: “Then I will take from my son-in-law’s soup which he doesn’t like because it’s not vegetarian. Is that ok?” At that point, the waiter needed back-up, so a waitress came up and added an extra “No” to my mom’s problem solving to get what she needed at a restaurant where she was ready to pay for what she wanted.
She was having a hard time, so I intervened and said, “Please, do speak to your manager and tell them that she is willing to pay for the soup at a price they think is fair. We have ordered one buffet and drinks and would really be very satisfied if another option was possible. Before you say no again, please do go ask. Thank you.” After much tribulation with the manager– I saw them debating from the lovely table on the lawn overlooking the valley where the coffee finca began– the waiters returned and said, “Claro que si.” So my mother enjoyed a beef stew while Brad ate his veggie treats from the buffet. I drank my papaya milk shake, while the waiter hovered the entire time watching. “He thinks we’re going to eat Brad’s buffet,” mi mama laughed and the waiter finally left at the end of our meal.
Rudy’s counterpoint: Most Guatemalans visit La Finca Filadelfia specifically for the buffet on weekends and usually come with their families for the entire day so they are meeting their clientele’s needs by providing a full-buffet (with vegetables even!) and a meat buffet and not serving an à la carte menu.
(2) No option for self-guided tours. Since the official tours end at 4 PM, those of us who arrived after the last bus left, were left walking around in very few public places, much of the finca is private access and there are no informational signs to give you a sense of the historical or provide you with a context. What I have encountered from visiting different landmarks, tourist sites or places such that are mildly historical or educational, is some option for self-guided tours to enjoy the grounds, some “whuffie” as it were to create some good feeling to take with you of this place.
Brad’s counterpoint: The place is a private finca and spa, it’s not a national treasure or protected park or anything like that. They have a lot of overhead and they’re objective is to make money.
(4) Priced in dollars and intended for American tourists. Mi mama was frustrated to say the least when she saw all the prices in USD (when asked what the Quetzal prices were for all paseos or tours, none of the folks at the information booth could actually cite the prices even though on that particular day I only saw a few Americans or foreigners out of the hundreds of Guatemalans walking around aimlessly after the last scheduled tour). Take a look:
The two-hour tour by mule for $35, Brad and I agreed was reasonable (my mother having ridden mules most of her life for free to cart sugar cane, bananas or get around thought it was another trampa). The Paseo Corto for Q25, which the folks at the information couldn’t describe what exactly it included, seemed the only thing intended for Guatemalans. Everything else was insanely expensive for what it was and knowing now that the average Guatemalan makes Q56 for a work day (thank goodness for the Q4 raise this week), the prices are most definitely priced to price out Guatemalans.
Rudy’s counterpoint: Which looks smaller for a canopy tour, $50 or Q412.50? In the past week the Quetzal has also varied and the USD has not, so it’s a more astute business practice to print in USD and to also make things look cheaper. It gives the customer the impression they are getting more for less.
I could go on and on (mi mama certainly did), but the conclusion from this peanut gallery is: Great place to visit, wouldn’t want to live there. Nor could we afford it for that matter. But the view was nice. Pues, como dice mi mama, “Hay que ver y no tocar.”
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