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Xela, My City: An Interview With a Long-Term Ex-Pat

Hang out in Xela long enough and you’ll realize that loads of ex-pats came and have never left. Some fall in love, others start a business and yet others have nowhere else to be.

This is the first in a series of articles in which we ask long-termers about their decision to remain here. Our first victim is XelaWho founder and Lonely Planet author, Lucas Vidgen.

Q: So, Lucas, you’ve spent 5 years away from your native Australia. Don’t you miss those snuggly koalas and kangaroos?

A : Yeah, but there are plenty of other good things to eat in Guatemala. Of course there are things I miss about Australia, but when I’m there, there are things I miss about Guatemala. One mistake many expats make is they get trapped in this weird mental space between two countries, always wishing one was more like the other. It just makes for frustration, and boring dinner party conversation. I like to get invited back to dinner, so I try to live where I am.

Q: What were the first things about Xela that made you consider staying around?

A: It took me about two years of living here before I realized that I was actually living here, but what I liked right away how the city looked – the surrounding mountains, cobblestoned streets, the old buildings and crazy market scenes. I also really enjoyed the mix of cultures – indigenous, ladino, backpackers, volunteers and expats.

Q: What inspires you to think “yeah, this is my city!?”

A: There’s this hidden optimism to Quetzaltecos that you have to dig past all the pessimism to find. Something about this city seems to make people think that other things are possible. I guess that’s why Xela’s cultural life is so strong, despite its small population…and why there’s another Spanish school opening every week. I really like the Quetzalteco sense of humor, too – plenty of dry wit, sarcasm and irony and a deep disregard for authority. They’re kind of like the Australians of Central America.

Q: In your opinion what is the quirkiest aspect of Xela?

A: Apart from the fact that Quetzaltecos have to read XelaWho to find out what’s going on in their own city? Or that Parque Central has not one blade of grass, while the zoo is 90% parkland? Or that it gets freezing here in winter but nobody has carpets or heating? Nothing – it’s a pretty straightforward place.

Q: Are there things you have a hard time tolerating?

A: I think I’m adapting OK. Getting treated like a clueless tourist in the market is getting a little old. The neighborhood drunk who thinks the front of my house is a urinal I could probably do without. The level of trash on the street and lack of recycling gets to me, but that’s an education thing – we’re about to start work on a project aimed along those lines, in case anybody’s interested…

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