Travels with V

Guatemala, Belize, Mexico

On a finca in Guatemala

San Cristóbal, Cobán

On a bright sunny day sometime in the 1950’s a lone white-skinned rider appeared in the small town of San Cristóbal in the Verapaz region of Guatemala. He rode slowly by a lake until he stopped. His name was John Stanley MÃ¥nsson, he had emigrated from his home town in southern Sweden first to Mexico (where he became friends with Raoul Castro, Fidel’s brother), and a few years later to Guatemala. And here in San Cristóbal he would settle down, build a farm and start growing coffee. 

But the first thing he did after having acquired his piece of land by the lake was to travel back to Stockholm. There he found the lovely Anna-Greta, and persuaded her to break up her engagement to another guy, sell her hair salon, marry John and go with him back to Guatemala. 

John is a handyman and he builds his finca in just a couple of months. And a year later their daughter Joan is born, their only child. A Swedish newspaper team finds the family and reports that Joan, only five years old, rides a horse alone to school every morning and back in the afternoon, a distance of several kilometers. Joan has clearly inherited her father’s passion for horses.

But when Joan is 15 years old things take a terribly bad turn. She is riding with her father up in the high mountains, picking orchids when he falls of a cliff and dies. And about one year later her mother also dies after being severely hurt in a car crash. 

But Joan is as stubborn as her father and refuses to give up. When we visit her she’s married with two grown sons, and lives with her husband in a new finca with a fantastic view of a deep and wide valley. On the slopes she grows coffee and in a greenhouse rare orchids. 

But it’s not just the love of horses and the restlessness she has inherited from her father, it’s also his language and dialect. He never really learned to speak Spanish, but would stick to his native southern Swedish all his life. And Joan speaks it perfectly:

Joan takes us on a tour around the estate, points to this and that, explaining her grand vision for development of the finca. Here’s a nearly finished hotel and a restaurant, there’s a place for camping, that house will be a center for traumatised children, over there we’re building a center for physiotherapy, there’s building and planning everywhere. 

Here, in the cemetery in San Cristóbal both her parents are laid to rest. 

And right up close we are reminded of the cruel days of Guatemala’s 40 years of civil war. Here lies Lazaro Oswaldo Moran Ical, who in 1981 was was abducted from his home by masked men, never to be seen alive again. Thirty years later his remains were uncovered in a mass grave on a military compound in Cobán. He had been shot with his hands tied behind his back. More than 250 000 civilians lost their lives in this dreadful war, that was fuelled by money, weapons and intelligence from USA.

We continue north on our journey and our next goal is high up in the sparsly populated mountains. But nevertheless it’s a popular spot for people from Guatemala as well as tourists from abroad. Join us there!

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