Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Voy a Atitlan y bon voyage San Pedro

San Pedro , Lago Atitlan Muy Differente y la mismo tambien
(Different, but the Same)

Up in the morning, off to my favorite spot for coffee. Seems like I never left. This town has two "El Centros" There´s the center of town for 99% of the people who live here, the church, the town square, the basketball court and the market. Then there´s "El Centro" for tourists, the boat landing, the bars, the coffee shops and Internet cafes. I admit it, I'm heading for the tourist El Centro, because there's no coffee up by the church, (that I know of.)

The first person to talk to me is a young Mayan lady selling baked goods. "Pan de banana?" she says. I asked her name and, guess what, five years ago this same lady (a child then) greeted Cindy and I when we arrived. Little Teresa has grown into a beautiful young lady now wearing traditional Mayan clothing, and I´m happy to say she is going to school. When we were here before there was some question as to whether or not she would start school.
Another interesting aside: I know very little about national politics here, and there is very seldom anything good said about Guatemala's leaders. Here's a good tidbit regarding a new program the current president started. Low income families are offered a monthly cash bonus, it´s not huge, but considering the poverty most of them are living in it is worth working for. To qualify there are a few things that must be done, children must attend school, women and children must make regular visits to health facilities. The other thing the new president has done which is big is to keep all the community health facilities open 24 hours a day. Previously, if you worked it was impossible to have medical care because you would have to miss work.

I must regress here, because I had a wonderful weekend with Brigitte's family and I want to recount it

Brigitte, Joris, Jacques and I Left Antigua around 111:00 on Saturday the 15th. There are two things that are noteworthy about the 3 hour journey. We stopped at a roadside stand and Brigitte bought us fresh chilled coconuts to quench our thirst, that itself was not truly remarkable, what was unique for me was it was my first "drive through" experience in Guatemala, and I didn´t miss hearing the question: "Would you like fries with that?"

I know some of you are going to think I´m crazy(er) but the following is a real life account, an actual experience. I take my science pretty seriously, and I would not be telling you this if I thought it was a hoax.

There is a section of road where gravity is not functioning normally. Until recently you had to know exactly where it was, but now there is a small sign saying "Paso Mysterioso" Yes that is almost the same as "mystery spot" but believe me, this is not one of those places where they bend all the trees and build slanted houses. It is a section of road about 150 yards long. There are no trees or houses and you can tell the road crests a hill and goes to the bottom and back up. We pulled off the side and took a water bottle and tried pushing it down hill, it stopped, and proceeded to roll uphill every time. Here´s the "clincher", when we got to bottom of the hill there was no traffic, so Jacques turned off the car and put it in neutral. Believe it or not, we started rolling backwards, up the hill, not just a little, we kept gaining speed.

Brigitte was going to Santiago for the weekend to see a friend who was moving back to Spain. Once again I have to say I feel honored to be included in her circle of friends,
Her friend Lucia lives in a rented house on Lake Atitlan, the first thing she did after meeting me was to find a place for me to stay. She got Salvador (the caretaker) to open a little guest cabin for me, another "Perfect Situation" just plain happened without any help from me. (You may think I´m using "play on" words here, but Salvador was my Salvador.)

We had a great time together walking along the lake, exploring Santiago and just relaxing. Sunday in the afternoon we feasted on Paella. It was a community effort preparing it. It took a good deal of the day and quite a few beers making this combination seafood, chicken, rice and vegetable dish, I loved the process: A whole community of different people coming together in Lucia's neighbor's kitchen, most of us strangers, but all of us united as friends before the meal was over. Buen Provecho!!

I caught the last boat to San Pedro while Brigitte and family drove home. This parting was a bit sad because I may not see her again. I´m going to stop by her house next weekend to get some things I left there, but they may be on another adventure.

Back to San Pedro.

I already pointed out that it seemed as though nothing had changed. Of course that´s not true, but so many of the things that were a part of my life when I was there five years ago seems (depressingly) the same. The poverty up in the native part of town, pretty much the same. The constant party atmosphere in the tourist part of town, pretty much the same. One change (also depressing to me and all of the locals I talked to) is that there is a huge fleet of three wheeled taxis (called "tuc tucs" ). It reminds me of a bunch of mosquito's buzzing around. People got along just fine walking or taking a ride on one of the picups before the Tuc Tucs arrived.

I had a great living situation there. I had a whole house to myself for as long as I wanted it. My friend Leo and his family have moved into his Mother in Law's for an indefinite amount of time to assist in caregiving. It was just me Sally (a four month old puppy) and a three bedroom house at the end of a funky little foot path.

I was not really happy in San Pedro, mainly I was bored, and I could have found a volunteer thing to do somewhere but I didn´t. What I was feeling, and what I was seeing in many people around there was a "lack of passion". I did some soul searching and a little writing on the topic (Find it here, link to othe deeper side: here and now, vs there and then ) I had a few short visits with another friend from years ago, and decided to bug out after three days there.
I have never been to Xela (Queztaltenango). It´s Guatemala´s second largest city and it is high in the mountains. Google Images.

I met Mike and Lucia from Tennessee on the bus ride there and they have been a pure joy to hang around with. They are both recently retired and pretty much just living the good life. Two months down here and then it will be time for them to return to their gardens and wine making. They were coming to Xela to see a famous Cuban band, the Buena Vista Social Club. Turns out it is one member of that band with his new band Buena Vista de Corazon. That concert was a bit too much, too many people, too much noise and a little shy on authentic Cuban Salsa, however last night we went to little dinner club which had an excellent five piece band, mellow atmosphere and they didn´t make us wait for 45 minutes in line and frisk us before the concert. More contrast, there's no shortage here.

Yesterday I took a trip up higher in the mountains to a gorgeous hot springs called Fuentes Georginas, its an awesome spot! (Wish it were my back yard!) (Pictures : Google Images )

There is so much to write about, and I have only three days left in Guatemala, so I´m going to close this journal here with the promise to myself that I will edit it, refine it and add some more pictures before too long (That was purposefully vague)

Thanks to all my devoted readers (both of you). Here´s a wish for continued good relations where ever any of us go.



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