Back to My Roots
I arrived in Guatemala on the 10th of March, exactly one month after leaving Switzerland. I was looking forward to getting here a lot because I am actually half Guatemalan and my grandmother (who’s turning 97 this year) still lives here. So, for the first time in a month, I’m not sleeping at a hotel, but in a home. You wouldn’t believe how good that feels.
Guatemala isn’t completely new to me. Because of the family I have here, I’ve visited the country several times and have already seen some of the beautiful places this little country that so many people can’t even find on a map has to offer. Two of my favorites are Tikal, the ruin of a Maya city in the rainforest in northern Guatemala, and Lake Atitlán with its volcano panorama in the Guatemalan highlands.
Many people were surprised that I was going to a place as «obscure» as Guatemala. But here, too, people rely on Metrohm instruments in various industries and for various applications, and they are sold by the Costa Rican distributor Scanco. Scanco distributes Metrohm instruments (and some other brands, including Foss) in Central America, the Caribbean, and in Ecuador. Distributing instruments and offering service in this region is quite the challenge: it’s a large territory but a relatively small market for chemical analysis instruments, meaning that Scanco has to cover a large area with very few people who, as a consequence, have to travel a lot.
During my trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica, I was accompanied by Paula, who’s Metrohm product manager at Scanco in Costa Rica. Scanco’s Guatamala City office is a small place where just a handful of people work, led by José Castañeda who started the office 9 years ago. Byron, who’s an application specialist at Scanco in Guatemala and whom I’d already met briefly while he was attending a training at the Metrohm Academy in Herisau last year, took Paula and me on a tour of the capital to show us the various faces of Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City. We started out in the historic center with its colonial houses, the not-so-photogenic Sexta Avenida (Sixth Avenue), which is a pedestrian zone where people shop for clothes or have lunch, dinner, or coffee at one of the various cafés or restaurants, and the lively main square where people sit in the shade, go for a walk, or eat at one of the various street stalls.
Changes for the better
Having visited Guatemala several times over the past 15 years or so, I think the city has changed a lot—nowadays, it’s probably better than its reputation. Streets are generally kept clean and are often lined with flowers and trees, there are nice areas with hip restaurants, bars, cafés, and boutiques like «4° Norte» where Byron took us for a stroll, and the cars are in better shape than they used to be—with exceptions of course, including the infamous chicken buses; while you don’t see as many live chickens loaded on their roofs anymore, often they will leave you blinded by a black cloud of toxic fumes when you’re unfortunate enough to be standing behind one as it accelerates.
Food and beverage producers, the cosmetics industry, and pharmaceutical companies are Scanco’s most important customers in Guatemala. Most customers are small companies or labs. During my visit in Guatemala, we met with two of Scanco’s larger customers: Colgate-Palmolive and Planta Industrial, a local company that produces floor disinfectants and bleach, among others. «Even more than the technology», says Alejandro who develops methods for quality assurance at Planta Industrial, «it is the service we have received for our Metrohm instruments that sets Metrohm apart. It has made Metrohm our first choice.»
Antigua: The Center of Guatemalan Tourism
Antigua Guatemala («Ancient Guatemala») was Guatemala’s capital until 1775. The city had been struck by strong earthquakes, and a large part of it was in ruins. The Spanish crown, which at the time ruled Guatemala ordered to move the capital to a safer location. With its charming cobblestone roads and colonial houses and churches, the town has become a tourist hotspot. Many foreigners come here to take Spanish classes (while enjoying a nice vacation at the same time).
Estefany, the second application specialist at Scanco in Guatemala, who joined the company recently, took us to Antigua. Just strolling the streets and looking at handicrafts that indigenous women sell in the streets is a great pastime. The women wear colorful handwoven and embroidered costumes and each village has its own typical designs and many of their handicrafts are based on the colorful textiles that are so typical of Guatemala. I usually can’t resist buying something here and my room in Switzerland is filled with colorful pillowcases and other reminders of my second home. But with a suitcase packed for a two-month trip through various climates from Wyoming winter to Brazilian summer, I had to hold back a little this time …