Nestled in a valley in central Guatemala is the city of Salamá, where my wife’s grandparents have lived nearly their whole lives. Other members of her family have roots there as well, and whenever I’ve had the chance to come down to visit over the years, it has served as home base for our trips. To me, Salamá is Guatemala. I’ve gone to many other beautiful parts of the country, including both Pacific and Atlantic coasts; a cloud forest; the old capital city of Antigua; a series of cascading pools undercut by a waterfall; a huge lake plopped between two volcanoes; and a gorgeous jungle river. But there’s something plainly spectacular about Salamá, particularly in the way it sounds.
The house is the perfect sponge to imbibe the melodies of the town. Guatemala is called “The Land of Eternal Spring,” with temperatures typically hovering in the seventies to low eighties year-round. Because of this, the house was designed to remain mostly opened, with an open-air garage and bedroom doors that instantly bring you into hallways that are open to the fresh air.
Bursting into the living room is the throbbing beat endlessly emanating from the shopping mall next door, alternating between peppy salsa and slapping reggaeton. Ever-present are the ripping motors of the parade of motorcycles ceaselessly trudging down the street, accompanied by the intermittent beeps and honks of the legions of impatient drivers. The nasally voice of the microbus driver, pleadingly beckoning and recruiting passengers to book voyage to Rabinal, another town in the region. From the kitchen comes the pitter-patter of the pressure cooker, rap tap tapping, hissing spurts of steam, signaling that something delectable will be on the table at the next meal—most likely black beans. Scattered conversations sprinkled with laughter (or drenched, if certain people are involved). The thundering smacks of little children’s feet pounding on the tiled floor, with their screeches of laughter ricocheting off the walls, amplifying to goliath levels.
Strolling down the street toward the square, music sparkles out of speakers of the various shops offering “American fashion” or the latest model of Samsung smartphone. The hour changes, and the clang of bells, like birds suddenly startled from their roost, rustles through the air, calling God’s children to turn their hearts and minds to prayer. A van covered in megaphones and speakers accosts pedestrians with blaring ordinances to forsake their previously held plans and attend a party at a local club. Reaching the park at the center of town, the steady hum of motorcycles continues to permeate the air, and like water from different rivers, ponds, and oceans poured into one bowl, the sound of each bike melds together and becomes an indistinguishable stream. Some days, the plinking placking harmonies of marimbas can be heard from the stage in the park, with the quivering mallets making a pulsing timbre that tickles the ear and ignites the heart.
On other days, we pack into the various vehicles and drive fiftteen minutes outside of town to el terreno, a beautiful piece of property owned by the family that includes sloping mandarin orange groves, towering palm trees, lush displays of tropical plants, and a covered patio with hammocks. It is here we settle in, with the crisp crackle of the fire in the outdoor stove bristling in the breeze, accompanying the talks of chatter like a slowly rattling snare drum. In the distance, the brazen honk of the goose and duck who live beside the fishing pond invades the air, and, like an old alarm no one can turn off, we all accept the nuisance until we no longer pay it any mind. When the time comes to feed the tilapia in the pond, there is the swift swoosh of the pellets being launched from the cup, and the singular thwat as each finds its rest on the water’s surface. Soon the fish arrive, and churn up the water into a torment of swooshing waves, slapping fins, and chugs of air slipping under with the scaly scavengers’ descent.
After a full day, we slowly pile back into the cars to head home. As evening slips in, a slow quiet slinks across town, and—without notice—suddenly blankets the town in quiet tranquility. A lonely bird chirps. A single SUV ambles down the street. A gecko cheep-cheep-cheeps from somewhere outside the kitchen window. The exaggerated gasps from the telenovela Maria-Renee’s grandmother watches religiously pop from the TV speakers. “Buenas noches” is exchanged by all, and Salamá falls asleep.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. His emotional wellbeing is overly dependent on Wisconsin sports, and thus he finds himself often in a state of disappointment. Matt lives with his lovely wife and daughter in Phoenix, AZ.