March 3-4

Welcome to San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, on the shores of Lake Atitlán!

Oh boy, I’m happy now (it's the 4th), but it took some work to make it happen. I arrived on the 3rd after a 2 1/2 hour microbus ride that actually took 4 hours. I went first to the school, San Pedro Spanish School, and was very pleased with the reception and the physical layout of the school.

They were to assign me a homestay and the magic just wasn't working. The local year-around population of this town must be 70% Maya with the rest made up of Westerners with a decidedly hippie-ish lifestyle who have made a home here by offering services to the tourists, and a very few native Spanish speakers who run language schools.

I visited three homestay families and all of them spoke their language between themselves and only used Spanish when speaking to me directly. I just wasn't up to dealing with another language, interesting as it might have been.
I was at this point ready to consider another town. Then I discovered that hotels are so inexpensive maybe I’d give that a try. Last night the $10 place was nice enough at first but then it turned out my back wall fronted the major shortcut for all drunken pedestrians coming and going and they partied on through the night. Not so great.

This brings us to today. This is the view while propped up in my new bed, reading, at the lovely Hotelito El Amanacer Sak'cari. Flowers, trees, and sky...OK!
I upped the ante to $12 per night and now I live in a garden paradise...
...with stupendous views of the lake and intensely gorgeous lounging opportunities. My room has a window to the garden, louvered windows (my favorite!), a full real bath with real hot water, maps on the wall And it’s half a block from the school.
The chatting opportunities are plentiful since everyone is enjoying the wonderful grounds of the hotel.

On top of which, follow the arrow to the baggie hanging out of the tree. Inside the baggie is the end of a cable that leads to an internet connection which you are free to enjoy right here at this lovely table. OK!
I still don’t know how the night is going to pass but I’m optimistic. (Note from this morning-I slept perfectly!)
To today’s school experience.

The site of the school is what brought me here in the first place. It is so cool and just as advertised. The one-on-one study cabañas with comfy chairs with arms and a giant white-board, are spread around and down the hillside so that each pair is pretty much isolated from all the others by lovely landscaping with only the sounds of the birds and the lake to interrupt your study...
I meet my teacher for the first time, we sit down to get acquainted and guess what, she totally does not know a single word of English. I don’t think she is pretending either because when she does ask me about a word her pronunciation is flat out weird, like from someone who has never had any correction. And she didn't learn Spanish at home - at home they speak a local language.

The school runs a school for teaching their teachers how to teach Spanish which is a very good idea under the circumstance of not having a pool of native Spanish speakers from which to hire.

My teacher made a couple of mistakes in the grammar explanations, she asking me over and over if I understood, I replying over and over that yes I do understand what you are saying and what you are saying I believe is not correct, but it doesn’t matter, really, I was ready to give it up… but she wanted to teach me, she wanted me to agree, which I couldn’t (those who know me will find this a familiar story…).

One time not too deep into it she realized that she was wrong and apologized and regarding a different point, she finally went to ask another teacher and then came back and apologized. She’s sweet and funny, she’s working hard, and she wants it to go well for both of us, and I'm trying to be optimistic about tomorrow's lesson.
There's an unfamiliar smell around town but eventually I did recognize it...from Cambodia. It's the coffee harvest. This is the detritus from the mill which you can't see in this picture.

Everyone I have met in Guatemala is very proud of their coffee.
Even individuals have little patches where they grow and dry coffee, then sell the beans to a processor like the one above.
In San Pedro there are two piers like this one where you can catch a launch to the other villages around the lake. It's usually quicker and probably more pleasant to go this way than to drive around.

This afternoon I'm hoping to take a buzz over to a neighboring village.
March 5

First, money. For four days neither of the two atm machines in San Pedro have had any money and the only bank didn’t know when money was going to show up, thinking each day it would be that day. It showed up today, on day four of the currency drought.

I think you could still exchange currency with private dealers or by making the one hour round trip boat ride to the bigger town of Panajachel. It’s a first for me – no atm cash for four days – but I’ve heard it happens here not infrequently.
Second, school. This is an example of what the streets are like around the neighborhood of schools. (You’re not visiting San Pedro for the architecture.) Day two didn’t go much better than day one since we seem to be always getting stuck. If I spoke better Spanish I’m sure it would help!
This is leaving the dock at San Pedro...
...and arriving at the dock in San Marcos La Laguna.
San Marcos is a very tiny place divided into two distinct parts. One is the Old Age Maya part where the local people live and according to one guidebook, the only thing you can visit is this new stone church built to replace the colonial one destroyed in the 1976 earthquake.
Inside the church.
I've seen these pickup trucks in every town operating as a bus service with local people waiting along the streets and roads, hopping on and off.
The other face of San Marcos is the New Age Western part consisting of a meditation center or two, a couple of massage places, and a few restaurants and guesthouses.

This is the most well-know spot in this part of the village. You can even stay in a pyramid shaped cottage...
There is this paved walking trail with enterprises on either side and dirt trails leading off to a few others. A primary school is behind the painted walls.
This is a restaurant facing the lake.
You can walk down from their back patio to this view. The food was delicious - scrambled eggs with onions, cheese, and salsa, yummy beans, a fresh crisp carrot salad, and excellent thick toasted bread.

Knock on wood, I don’t know why this is, but from what I have observed there are no mosquitoes here. I was even out wandering around at dusk, primetime for mosquitoes, and nothing.
A view along the shore of San Marcos.
Here’s another first for me. There I was a foot away from the scene where a couple of guys with metal pipes jumped another couple of guys and a brawl ensued. The guys on that boat were the perpetrators, first racing into the dock, such as it is, leaping to the attack and then roaring away, which is when I took the shot. Notice the dazed tourists on the boat. Guessing (everyone was speaking the local language), it looked like the attackers thought they were justified because of something the guys in the other boat had done.

There was blood, a lot of cell phone calling, more boats coming and going and trading who was going to go where since most severely injured was the guy in charge of one of the boats. It was quite a dust-up. I wonder if they have a local newspaper to check?

And with that I went home to my snug little hotel.
March 6

On the way to the embarcadero for today’s outing I passed this major bucket brigade and then two more! I think what happened was, like the money, items come here only every once-in-a-while and they must have just got their delivery of cement. They are doing everything by hand. They built a kind of containing box in the street to mix the cement and bags of rocks with big flat shovels, then they’d pass the mixture in buckets up the line to where they were pouring, and then see the guy in the red shirt, he’s collecting the buckets and passing them down on a rope.

I’m off now to one of the big local markets on the other side of the lake in Sololá. I met a young man, Felix from San Pedro, while waiting for the boat and we travelled together all the way. It was very fun to chat in Spanish. We were a threesome - me, Felix, and my dictionário.
I visited this cathedral while Felix went to do his business in the government building, then we met again for a walk to a vista point, walked back to the market together and then said adios. In all this time I did not take a picture of Felix. What in the world was I thinking?

Notice the men under the gate. Wait until you see their clothes!
But first, here’s the inside of the cathedral. I think purple must be the color of Lent. I heard that the most popular religion around Lake Atitlan is a form of Fundamentalist Christianity which might be why the Catholic churches seem pretty spare.
Once you get into the lanes of the market it is so intensely crowded, I should know by now that that’s how it is.
I took these pictures with the camera over my head it was so crowded. Felix said that Friday it was traditional to eat fish, which speaks to a Catholic heritage, and since this is the big Friday market all the local lake fish are salted and sold here.
I found a place near the cathedral where I could stand slightly raised up and catch one edge of the market.

ok, Let’s do clothes. First, here is a collection of ladies and a few gentlemen. The women carry their babies in slings and their packages on their heads. The men parade.
And here is a typical man in full regalia. Everything is perfect (love the hat) except his shoes are wrong…they are supposed to be high-heeled richly tooled leather boots.
More. Most in the younger generation however are having none of it.
There is a plaza just ouside the market where people meet, sit to enjoy snacks, and rest from the toil of the marketplace.

Here is the point where if I were a real photographer I would settle down and wait for better light - the shadows have been killer inky black. Without photoshop there would be no photos at all. With photoshop there are bad ones. But I'm not a photographer, I'm a tourist, and I move on.
On the way down from Sololá back to Panajachel where you get the boat to San Pedro, I got off the bus (yes, the chicken bus with every seat taken three across, the third person dangling into the fully packed aisle) to make a panorama of the lake from the Mirador view point.

This is just one slice of the picture since I’ve not taken the time to do the pano yet. Then I got on another bus to finish the journey to Panajachel.
And they have a cathedral too!
With purple decorations inside.
Panajachel is one of the biggest towns on the lake and the usual kicking off point for visitors. I could have stayed here, they have plenty of language schools, but having now had a glimpse of it I’m just as glad to be in San Pedro.
Very hungry and very tired, I stopped at the most chic-chic hotel I saw for a breakfast-lunch treat. This was one of least tasty meals I’ve had so far in Guatemala, but comfortable and quiet. Great view too.

I heard there was going to be a procession in San Pedro tonight but by the time I got back to my place I decided to give my eyes a little rest…and then it was midnight.
March 7

There are two piers in San Pedro, the smaller of the two having public boats going only to Santiago, which is where I’m going today. Here is the pier.

I arrived a little early and had a great snack at the place on the corner there. I basically 'just eat it' unless I actually see someone sneeze right onto the food...then I pass it by. I'm 100% sure people sneeze on my food everywhere, it's just that food preparation here is right out in the open, and when you have seen someone sneeze onto what might be your food it's hard not to balk. Although...if someone sneezed right into the fryer I might think, oh, those germs are so cooked...
The area around this pier is popular for water sports.

The whole lake really is in wonderful shape as far as I can tell. You don’t see six-pack rings floating around, or scummy gunk or anything of the sort. It feels like the lake is calling out ‘come on in, the water’s fine!’ although I did read you might as well skip the beach at Panajachel.
Kids are so resourceful. The kid fishing is using a fishing line wound around a piece of wood, with a hook on the end that he is baiting with some ‘thing’ that he is retrieving from his backpack. What would he have done had he caught something, I don’t know, but it would have been fun to find out.

Maybe they're all cousins as they were traveling together on the boat, entertaining each other with games and jokes, and generally all, boys and girls together getting along so well.
Arriving in Santiago. The whole lake is surrounded by these wonderful peaks...volcanoes actually, that make for such a dramatic backdrop.
First things first…find the cathedral and the Plaza Centrál.
These statues placed along both walls in those arched niches each tell a story from the Bible, and they all get new clothes every year. In the space behind the far wall there’s a whole world more where all members of the holy family at various ages are dressed in local clothes. Now that was cool, but no photos allowed. Towards the end on the right we find…
…this guy. Now I ask you, is that Elvis or what, and check out his hands. I can hardly wait to add the picture from the next day at the big market in Chichicastenango.

Everybody loves the king.
These are men in half of the traditional garment. The top is supposed to be black and white too in horizontal strips or checks and sometimes the pants are heavily embroidered but usually not. Now there’s an outfit right up my alley!

Oh yeah, that baseball cap is not part of the deal either.
There is an attraction in Santiago – it’s the statue of Maximón which is in theory hidden, and which they move from time to time, but which every tout at the pier and every child on the street offers to take you to for quetzals equal to from 50 cents to 12 dollars. I gave a kid 50 cents. See the window furthest down on the left. That’s it. You’d actually have to be mighty tall to look in the window but still, I couldn’t see any other effort to hide it.

From a guidebook: “Folk Catholicism plays an important role in the life of Santiago and the town is one of the few places where Maya still pay homage to Maximón, the 'evil' saint.” People bring him cigarettes and cheap rum which I suppose is eventually consumed by the men hanging around, the same men who make sure you don’t take a picture without paying!
Here’s his whole shape and also a part of the ceiling.
It all seemed a pretty casual affair, except for the collecting money part. There were a couple other guys as well as the three you can see just sitting around shooting the breeze and reminding the tourists to pay.

Which reminds me! None of these guys was actually smoking or drinking. And, amazingly enough, two days before my arrival in Guatemala the new law prohibiting smoking in public places went into effect. And with the exception of the occasional smoking tourist or drunk bum, I just haven't seen a lot of smoking or drinking on the street, here or in Antigua. Wow is right. I was just thinking of the clouds of smoke that enveloped me everywhere in Spain. Umm, a study topic for a government grant.
More from inside. There were rows of Catholic iconography stacked deep on the opposite wall.
On the boat ride back.
I almost made the same mistake with Simon as I made with Felix in that there was almost no picture of Simon with whom I spent the journey both going and coming and had my first chance in a while to blather away in English without feeling guilty.
March 8

I mentioned briefly before about the coffee harvest. I don’t know how long it lasts, and if it’s like in Cambodia there will be a harvest more than once in a year. Near these processing facilities, of which there are at least two along the shore in San Pedro, there is an aroma I will now always recognize. It is not the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee. It isn’t even very pleasant, but then it doesn’t make you fear walking past the place either.

The cycle is something like this: a guy plants some coffee; he picks the beans and brings them in bags in the back of his truck to a place like this one; they dump the beans into the hulling mechanism that separates the outside from the beans inside; the hulls are then packed up for a fertilizer plant and the beans put back into the bags for the grower to take. Now the grower spreads his beans out in his front yard to dry and after they are dry he puts them back into the bags, back into his truck, and I haven’t seen what happens next but I assume there is an aggregator who packages the beans for market.

Por qué no? why not try some Guatemalan coffee for your next cup?
We, about 12 people, are in a mícrobus (pronounced mee-cro-boos) now making our way to the biggest market in the Guatemalan highlands at Chichicastenango. Everyone calls it Chichi but I like to say the whole thing. Here are the syllables, it’s fun to say: Chi-chi-ca-ste-nan-go.

This is a lake view on the way out. Unless you are traveling to another lakeside village by boat, all roads lead upupup and then downdowndown. They call the villages pueblos and for those of us who had to study California's history more than once, we have an image of what a pueblo is, and also the notion that they are from the distant past. Not so!
It’s like I can’t get enough of these peaks. Notice this is a double, one in front of the other which you can see by the clouds that come between them.
First, the church. There were two big cans really pouring out the smoke of incense and people would stand or kneel at the entrance swinging the cans on ropes that created even more smoke. And don’t miss the detail of the woman’s outfit and the kids hat.
Remember the statue of the guy from the church in Santiago? Here he is again and this time with wings and a guitar.

Everybody loves the king.
A mighty colorful cemetery.
Guess what, it was Packed in there, in what must have been 10 square blocks of El Mercado.

I only made a passing foray into the food stalls as the aisles there were practically impenetrable as was the area of commodities. The fabrics and souvenir streets were less crowded and amazing enough for me.
Hola Kaitlin!
And more until your eyes bleed.
The cafetérias just blew me away. I say in the plural because there were so many I couldn’t count them. Section after section of places exactly like this one.
It's like there is one menu that everyone wants to eat when they come to the Sunday market at Chichicastenanga, and that menu is fried chicken or fried fish, rice, beans, tortillas, salad, and salsa.
Place after place with the same menu and an occasional extra offering of a soup.
We passed these guys while driving home from the market. They had been on the road for 8 hours biking through hills I would not want to walk, through rutted dirt, huge potholes every 100 feet, roads that narrow into one lane.

I asked my fellow travelers, who thinks that looks like fun? I cannot imagine why they did not fall down. My neck hurt just seeing them!
Home again, and yet another view from the back lawn of my hotel.
March 9-10-11

These were actual school with homework and everything, and these were also my three days of SALSA!.

Here is a downtown street that I didn't go to much. The actual downtown, where you can find El Mercado and things like shampoo is many blocks straight up a hill from the community of language schools so I rarely went there.
They had this. I asked my teacher to tell me the story especially what's with the chicken and she said it had something to do with San Pedro's pretend brother and stories from the Bible.
Every Monday they do a meet and greet at the school for all the students and teachers, and to tell about the events of the coming week.

They really are doing so much right at this school, it's just the one big wrong thing, teachers telling you wrong things, is serious. I have an idea to help! I will be sending my idea to the director.
The big white boards work great for giving lessons, better than being huddled over some papers in a noisy patio. It's pretty amazing.
This guy, Selvin, who handled all the administration, all the orientation, all the faq, and was around 98% of the time did his job flawlessly. The 2% of the time he was not around it was a sad and empty place out there in the reception area.
She brought this special for me today because it was my favorite - arroz con leche. This woman is cleaning the floors and getting coffee ready in the morning, offering an amazing lunch every day at 10am, and cleaning up until the evening.

The food I ate here at the school during the pausa at 10am was the best food I ate in San Pedro. I could hardly wait until 10am to see what treats she would have that day.
Today it was arroz con leche, a tamale that was so flavorful I just loved it, she also had a delicious looking ceviche tostada but I was too full to try it. Every day a feast of at least two things costs less than one dollar.

At this moment there had been no electricity in the Entire Town for 5 hours and the electricity was not going to return for another 6 hours. It was a rolling blackout from the central distribution point in Sololá.

It was soo weird. There was right here right now and the whole rest of the world was gone.
Here's her serving station...
...and the dog Princessa who has an internal alarm that rings at 10am. She is always there waiting for her share.
This is here because it kind of came out.
And because the last thing I did on the last day in San Pedro was a salsa class with Enrique, it'll be the last picture too. Oh yeah, that was fun.
HomeCentral and South America • Guatemala • '09 Mar: Lago Atitlán, Guatemala

© 2014 •