His moving story was one of thousands from the “Seats for Switzerland” campaign. Paul Beck won a ticket to be reunited with his loved ones. He recently wrote to us with a report about his surprise visit in Guatemala.
How I experienced a fairy tale come true.
By Paul Beck
This is my account of my surprise trip to Guatemala. The surprises began on the morning of 5 March, the day of my departure. A former workmate accompanied me to the airport, where we were met by my friend and retired Swissair captain H. P. Hartmann, who was there to see me off. That produced a mutual “hello” as the two of them knew each from their days as apprentice mechanics. On that note, I boarded the aircraft. The take-off was observed from the side of the runway by both men.
My flight to Miami was one of the nicest I have ever experienced in terms of quiet. The onward journey to Guatemala also went very well.
The next day kicked off with my first surprise visit, to my friend Rolf Meier, the chef of Chocolateria Zürich. I told him my story and asked for his permission to surprise his sales assistant Gladys Puluc, our “foster child”, in the Peri Roosevelt shop and restaurant in Guatemala City. I travelled there by taxi in the afternoon, my surprise appearance drawing a response of wide-eyed delight from petite Gladys. We talked about everything I had imagined in connection with this travel story. The expression of delight on Gladys’s face speaks for itself.
On Sunday, 6 March, I returned to Peri Roosevelt to discuss Gladys’s day off. My assumption was that on Sunday the shop would not be too busy with customers. But I was thoroughly mistaken on that point. There were very few tables empty in the spacious restaurant, and in the store was an impressive queue of customers, with Gladys alone on duty behind the counter because it just happened to be her colleague’s lunch break. Without realising it, she showed me why she had been chosen best sales assistant.
With quick hands she packed up a lovely cake, smiling from ear to ear all the while. She was clearly in her element and gave no indication that was the least bit under any stress.
She dashed back and forth and even found a second to wave to me without her customers even noticing. After she had taken her own lunch, she came to my table with a stack of papers in hand, the orders for the next day, which need to be organised.
On her day off I invited her and her “Mama” who had brought her up at the local SOS Children’s Village and with whom she still lives, to dinner at a nice restaurant in Antigua Guatemala. We travelled there aboard the public bus, which drove “like the fire brigade”. I knew we would enjoy good food at the Posada de Don Rodrigo.
While the tortillera shaped the tortillas with her clapping hand movements and then baked them in the hot bowl, we were entertained by the music of the marimba band, who performed despite the absence of a few members.
Upon our departure, the band performed one of my favourite piece of music: “Luna de Xelaju”, which caused me to stop and listen until the final note had sounded. This was probably my last farewell, and so it was much more than mere coincidence that this melody filled the air. (Example of “Luna de Xelaju”)
We returned by bus to the Peri Roosevelt shop and restaurant.
Easter was a clear presence at the Chocolateria Zurich. The business’s own “chocolate artist” had prepared her creations for both Easter and National Secretary Day. On display were Easter bunnies 50 cm tall, the likes of which I have never seen in Switzerland. The production equipment with dark or light chocolate was in steady use.
On Sunday, 16 March, I returned to Antigua in the hope that the El Agua volcano would demonstrate its full majesty. But that didn’t happen. The gradual arrival of the next rainy season became evident. The peak of the mountain was, as usual, obscured by cloud. As an alternate attraction there was a procession by people from the neighbouring village, Santa Inés del Monte Pulciano. The entire route was carpeted with beautiful flowers, coloured sawdust and green coffee berries.
Suddenly, the parade of cucuruchos dominated the scene, the violet-clad figures gradually passing by with their slow, swirling movements. They were followed at a respectful distance by a group of women carrying an image of the Virgin Mary. This was a prelude to the La Merced Good Friday procession, in which some 160 men are needed to transport the two-and-a-half ton figure of Christ with the cross.
On the final day of my stay I was able to take my friend Rolf Meier along with me to a photo session with the three main characters of this “true fairy tale”. There I received a surprise woven gift embroidered with a message.
I have no idea when our Gladys found the time to get that done. She probably worked on it through the night.
On 19 March I boarded the flight for the journey home, arriving in Zurich on the 20th, a half hour ahead of schedule. I would like to thank you most sincerely for the ticket and hope that my photographs give you some impression of the happiness my surprising visit generated.
Paul Beck, thank you very much for your letter with wonderful insights of your journey. ‒ SWISS