We crossed the Mexico- Guatemala border with a minimum of fuss and took care to appreciate every second of our comfortable bus ride considering that in our previous visit to Guatemala in more than three full weeks we failed to see even one bus as decent as this one (and this one had, of course, originated in Mexico). It even had a TV! Which unfortunately backfired, and now if only there were enough soap in the world to wash us clean after being subjected to arguably the worst movie of all time, blaring from just one seat in front of us making it extremely difficult to avoid. I tried to approach it as a mental challenge, force myself to read, sleep, even stare at the weird things crawling out of the garbage next to me, anything but watching… <shudder>… “White Chicks”. The only reason I say arguably is because, while in South America, we were similarly soiled by seeing just a small part of “Little Man”, and I think anyone would agree the two would have to be neck and neck, right up there with any Mariah Carey movie and the YouTube video of the guy who shits out living worms. The fact that it was dubbed into Spanish only improved it marginally.
So, what do you think of Guatemala so far? Mm hmm, I paint quite a picture don’t I? Anyway, our decent bus ride eventually came to an end, as they all seem to, with us being bounced out at a completely unfamiliar crossroads surrounded by dilapidated tiendas and hectic with overloaded trucks, honking chicken buses and people who looked nothing like us. We didn’t even know where the hell we were, let alone where we might find some industrial wash to rinse the Wayans Brothers out of my burning eyeballs. A number of awkward encounters later we learned, we think, that there were no more buses to Panajachel that day (Reason #26 not to sleep in and take the later bus, right behind #25 Unnecessary Time On Questionable Sheets) so we just hopped on the next vehicle heading in that general direction, an overloaded smoke-belching chicken bus with twice as many passengers as seats and a psychotic driver who barreled recklessly through villages blasting his horn while chickens, mangy dogs and small children frantically scrambled out of our way. We were hitting speed bumps with enough velocity for my unwashed hair to leave marks on the roof. Even the locals were looking around, kind of tentatively smiling like they wanted to laugh but were pretty sure if they tried it they’d end up biting their tongue in half like a bad “blowjob in the car” joke. On the bright side, after Argentina (and Mexico), this really made us feel like we were getting back to our travel roots, back to those heady days when instead of online check-in, wifi and machine-wash laundry we were carrying four pounds of airline tickets, a Discman and, if I begged, Laynni might reluctantly wash my underwear with my old (or so she claimed) toothbrush. We felt giddy, the way Dave Matthews must feel every fifth year when someone writes a new song for him. Nonetheless, other than some kids narrowly avoiding obliteration on what should have been a simple walk home from school, and now having to go home and explain why they shit their best trousers, all went smoothly, basically meaning we made it to Santiago Atitlan alive. Never mind that it was on the far side of the lake from where we wanted to go, as completely opposite San Marcos as Jay Sean is to Sean Paul.
After some asking around we managed to track down a hotel, followed closely by a meal in what was probably one of the nicer restaurants in town, assuming one could judge by the half dozen guys hovering on the sidewalk outside the window watching their TV. The following morning we considered looking in on Santiago’s main tourist draw, Maximon, a small statue of a black tequila-drinking, cigar-smoking demi-god (similar to the ones of Eddie Murphy they sell in Toys R Us). The idea is that you donate booze, smokes and money in exchange for his “blessing”, and occasionally some leftover tortillas. We passed for the time being, but I may return if the Raptors make the playoffs, or I decide to make a long overdue run at becoming the Pope. Instead we headed down to the dock and managed to find a boat across the lake to our new home for the next two months.
Lake Atitlan: Without question, one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen and somewhere we’ve been looking forward to returning ever since our first visit almost exactly 7 years ago (Laynni, I am telling you, not 8!) It is a volcanic caldera, which basically means it is a huge dip surrounded by volcanoes, and covers an area of 130 square kilometres and is a ridiculous 320 metres deep (roughly 1,000 feet)! Which really comes in handy when you’ve got truckloads of sewage to dump and you’re really hoping they’ll blend right in, and fast. Despite some of the rather, let’s say, non-green practices around here, so far, at least, the lake seems to have taken it all in stride, especially on our side of the lake which is well away from the bulk of the population. Crystal clear, refreshingly cool water (on our standard Waskesiu scale we’d call it Late July) that is as smooth as glass most mornings (why is it always “smooth as glass”, never “smooth as silk boxers ” or “smooth as Lance Bass’ hands”?) before the wind and whitecaps pick up every afternoon.
The place we’re staying is called Pasaj-Cap, and it’s a small group of half dozen apartments halfway up the hill from the lake and about 5 minutes from the small village of San Marcos. San Marcos is known for being one world’s great energy centres and is a magnet for people into yoga, meditation, baby pyramids and holistic pursuits like colon cleansing and peeling vegetables with your mind. Beautiful, though, and peaceful in a “nobody really has anything to do that isn’t really stupid” kind of way. We like it. There are a number of lakeside towns and villages and they are all fascinatingly unique. If you were to describe San Marcos as “The Aunt That Changed Her Name To Rainbow and Spends Every Thanksgiving Talking About How Many Orgasm She Was Given By That Guy At Woodstock Whose Name She Can’t Remember But She Thinks It Started With A Vowel”, then the rest could be roughly classified as follows:
San Pedro: The drunk uncle who keeps pissing in the pool but laughs at himself so nobody can stay mad at him
Santiago: The cousin who looks normal but always insists you come look at his collection of used q-tips
Panajachel: Dad, who, after the divorce, invested in some hair plugs, got a good deal on an ’84 Corvette and then started dating that waitress at the Husky with the fake boobs and a lazy eye
San Juan and San Pablo: The two cats your grandma got back in ’75 that seem to spend every holiday season hiding under the couch, yet when you leave your shoelaces always smell a little like ammonia
Santa Cruz: The sister that married the orthodontist but still uses the work “reckon” all the time
So there you have it.
Now, as for our “apartment”:
Pretty outstanding, I have to admit. While it could not be categorized as “expensive” since it is cheaper than anything similar at home and probably a third the price of something comparable on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, it still runs to the high side for Guatemala and I was pretty much against it, hoping to snatch up some really cheap house off in the bush or something but, luckily, Laynni won out and I have to admit, she was right, because for a few hundred dollars a month more we’re in this great modern place with stunning views over the lake. I was going to change our desktop background to one of our pictures of the lake the other day until I realized it looked kind of stupid with the real thing looming directly behind it through our enormous 6 foot high picture windows (so I had to settle for yet another of Laynni sleeping with her mouth open). The entire front of our place is window and they slide open to make it feel like we’re living our entire life on the deck in a Coors Light commercial. The only differences are that none of the shirts I brought have collars for me to pop and, unlike the girls in the ads, Laynni hardly ever dances in her bikini while smiling blankly as though she’s still trying to piece together the last place she saw her IUD. We do, however, often wear sunglasses indoors, and mostly in the cool “We’re With The FBI” way, not the “Can You Take Me To The Bathroom Because I Just Had Cataract Surgery” way.
On top of all that, we like the owner, Pierre, Frenchness and all, as well as all the other guests here, the locals are generally as friendly as I am while eyeing up the last beer in your fridge, it’s just a 12 minute walk to the village and we go swimming in the lake at least once a day (where Laynni adds another 100 metres distance per day while I work on maximizing my splash ratio before flailing around in a few short circles and struggling back up on to the dock with my ass-crack showing).
Oh yeah, and we have a hammock in our living room. Technically, our bed is also in our living room, but still…
The only downsides are:
Sharing our kitchen with One Million Ants who make every meal clean up like a pop quiz with very immediate feedback.
Our lovely resident German Shepherds, Ina and Rye, who are delightful by day but occasionally spend the night making more noise than the Giant Botox Smile from So You Think You Can Dance (the one who looks just like I imagine Miley Cyrus will after 20 years of alcohol abuse and laxative dieting).
We really like it here. Next time you can look forward to a detailed description of all the fun, adventurous things we are pretending we are going to do while we’re here but will never actually get around to. It’s an impressive list.
Oh yeah, and just so you know, I had to give up on the name Ken since, apparently, most people either associate it with the guy in the tight jeans who starred in Wiseguys or an IA teacher who takes his female students to Applebee’s to celebrate the birdhouses they built. Either way, not what I’m looking for. So it was back to the drawing board, and after much thought, focus and about 13 beer on NFL Championship Sunday it suddenly came to me as I swayed unsteadily by the side of the road doing my best to stop pissing on my shoes. Never again will I struggle to sound out “e” and “a” separately for a hotel clerk. I thank you for all your suggestions.