Twenty years ago, the highway between Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango was a narrow, two-lane road that cut a harrowing, twisted path through the the steep Guatemalan highlands. The highway offered a thousand breathtaking vistas, but it was just as dangerous as it was beautiful. The cars and buses competed with one another to jockey ahead of the slower trucks. Often they passed other vehicles around blind curves, just barely missing a truck or bus that barreled around the corner from the opposite direction. It's no wonder all the buses carry the image of a saint or the Virgin Guadalupe; sometimes prayer is the only traveler's insurance available.
Now the highway is greatly changed. The view is just as spectacular as before, but now four lanes have been opened, making travel between the two cities quicker than ever before.
The new four-lane autopista allows drivers to bypass Salcajá and enter Quetzaltenango from the other side. It is much faster than before, but I decided to take the old road, just for old times sake.
When we arrived in Quetzaltenango, we immediately found La Rotonda, which is a large traffic circle with a statue in the middle: El Monumento a la Marimba (pictured above). Some of the sights were the same as I remember them, but many were changed. A massive archway now spans the entire street, just exactly where the old LDS Church still stands. Also, a McDonald's was built on the edge of the Rotonda, just a block away from the old mission office.
It was a strange feeling to see all the changes. Twenty years ago, when I was a young missionary, I would have given anything to have a McDonald's within our mission boundary. Now I feel a sense of sadness to see something so important and intangible has been lost through the Americanization of this deeply traditional country.
Years ago, I was riding the bus to Quetzaltenango with Elder Barrios. Somehow we got to talking about our lives back home and he asked me if I had a girlfriend in the States. Of course, I told him that I was writing a girl who was also a missionary in Texas. He asked me, "What is her name?"
I said, "Rhonda."
Just then, the bus came to a stop and the driver's assistant hollered the name of our location, "¡La Rotonda!" Elder Barrio laughed and mimicked the assistant in the same altered voice that all the Guatemalan buses use to announce their destinations. Ever since then, it became a joke among some of the missionaries that I was dating a girl named La Rotonda.
When I shared this story with Rhonda, she was none too pleased. She said the name makes her sound, well, rotund and large. Even so, all these years later, Rhonda posed for a picture at her namesake Rotonda.