And Then There Were Four

Well, April is here, spring has sprung (sort of year round down here), and I’m as happy as a little girl, with licorice probably, and against all odds we finally have a few things to talk about. My sister, Andie, and her husband, Mark, just left after visiting us on the lake for a little over a week. Crazy times, you best believe it. Swimming…..as a group. Reading….as a group. Watching Karl Pilkington’s hilarious antics on An Idiot Abroad…..as a group. Sheepishly agreeing to skip highly recommended cultural excursions…..as a group. Passing up local tortillas with pollo, frijoles and queso in exchange for a sumptuous dollop of Kraft Dinner….well, actually that one was just Andie. Although I did try it, and it was good, like a hearty bag of clothespins and Elmer’s Glue had exploded all over my spoon and coaxed itself down my throat. It made me miss Safeway and all its ready-made meals with overly specific instructions right there on the packaging. Here we just buy things like a broccoli. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Who is going to tell me how many minutes it needs to simmer after the bulbous head has been mixed with a ¼ cup of milk and…well, what exactly? Or how it can be used to make a version of rice krispie cakes that will be sure to delight my less discerning guests? Frankly, I don’t care how great it makes my sperm taste, it’s still not worth it if I end up eating over-baked vegetables covered in completely the wrong amount of shake ‘n bake.

Some call me the artsy type

KD, and an early stop at the famous (if you get Laynni started) Antigua McDonald’s, aside, this visit promised to be very interesting, falling as far as it does outside Andie’s normal comfort zones. While she does travel quite often she tends to prefer a different kind of trip than you normally get in a place like Guatemala. Instead of world famous cities like Paris or New Orleans you get San Marcos la Laguna, home of the pyramid fort where adult women go to meditate on the cruelty of shaving innocent armpit hair. Instead of vibrant night life consisting of high end clubs and talented bands you can gaze longingly out your window while the nearly full moon reflects playfully off the dead fish floating in the lake. Who needs the Olive Garden when you’ve got fried chicken and individual packages of knock-off oreos? Strolling among ancient elms in immaculately manicured parks, or scrabbling through the dusty remnants of old corn fields under the watchful eye of furiously uneasy dogs? Highly efficient bellmen who escort you and your cumbersome luggage up a modern elevator as smooth and silent as Ryan Gosling giving your teenage daughter a tour of his loft apartment, or ninety-seven stone steps straight up from the pendulous wooden dock? And don’t even get me started on the visiting delegation of cunning spiders (especially the araña de rincón, which translates to “corner spider”, and is also known as the “Chilean recluse spider” or, less menacingly, the “brown spider”, famous for their dangerous bites and comically disorderly webs).

A neatly tied corn husk, anyone?

But, despite our area’s decided lack of 24 hour cheesecake stores or buff homosexuals performing dangerous acrobatics in the nude, I think their visit went quite well. We met them in Antigua and spent a bit of time touring its nifty old streets, tidy churches and ancient ruins that have been pragmatically put to use in the run up to Easter for storing folding chairs and disgruntled looking Jesus mannequins. We shopped for fruit and vegetables in a crowded market filled with hopeful farmers in town for a spot of prayer and commerce, and learned that Mark’s ability to tap a watermelon with his knuckles with a thoughtful look on his face was every bit as impressive as my eagerness to accept any quoted price. We then headed out for Lake Atitlán, a long, winding trip that is famous for uncomfortable bouts of nausea and the stunning beauty of Chimaltenango’s seven magical miles of tire shops.

Once at the lake they were dazzled by the view, uncertain about the floor ants (“those ones we leave be, they haul off the carcasses of the larger ones”) and introduced them to all our favorite hammocks. Then they were pretty much on their own until supper.

One day we ventured out for our standard visitor’s hike, completing the 2+ hours of gentle slopes, sheer hillside drop-offs and monumental views for the sixth time….still mugging free! Then a couple days later Mark and I were seriously considering climbing Volcán San Pedro the following morning, at least until the end of the soccer game, when a few drinks threatened to turn into more, then, lo and behold, they did, then a few more, yada yada yada, I passed out on the couch watching The Sopranos on our laptop, later struggled out of bed in the morning, peeled my reluctant eyes apart to discover a very convenient little cloud obscuring the volcano’s peak and, if that’s the case, then, well, really what’s the point in doing it today? But true to our word, and my everlasting faith in a 24 hour recovery period, well, I daresay we hiked the shit out of that bitch the very next day. Firm of purpose, resolute in our determination, wearing neatly complementary Hurley caps, we refused to let any obstacles get in our way. Not the heat, not the calf-crushing incline, not Mark’s near death experience (sweating to death is a real thing, he insists). And, if I recall correctly, I believe Andie was getting a massage at the time.

Success, sweaty success

Now, how about that Easter? Yeah, it’s a big deal in Latin America. Four and a half days of holiday fun, a huge influx of visitors, seemingly bi-hourly church services, intricate religious processions, plentiful drunk men using smudged cement walls to keep them upright while they grunt in the direction of wary passersby. The big day in San Pedro was Good Friday (I think most people are simply too exhausted by Easter Sunday, Thirsty Thursday is only fun for adults and paramedics and, let’s face it, Surgery Saturday can be downright terrifying). People from the local churches worked all through Thursday night designing and constructing their “carpets”, covering several streets in vibrant depictions of religious themes and stories using coloured sawdust, pine needles, leaves, fruit, vegetables, discarded oil filters, Sex and the City 2 DVDs, etc. Then starting early Friday morning large groups fastidiously coordinate their Mayan dresses or pastel golf shirts, as the case may be, hoist one of the meticulously crafted floats onto their shoulders and slowly make their way through the town ceremoniously shambling roughshod through all these carefully designed creations. There were two feature floats, the women carrying a peculiarly pale skinned Mary standing stiffly at attention and gazing out at the adoring masses proud and stoic like a mother put in charge of her son’s hockey team’s bingo fundraiser, the men up ahead carrying a stooped Jesus labouring to haul his own cross to the nailing hill, apparently illustrating that most inspirational biblical message of “you made your bed, now you can lie in it”.

Semana Santa is here!

We also noticed that the shoe was on the other foot from a height perspective when it came to the martyr-bearers – the taller people struggling, re-adjusting and quietly swearing under their breath while the shorter folk, normally so underprivileged from physical, aesthetic and walking down the red carpet with Nicole Kidman standpoint, were sauntering along jaunty and energized as the padded beams softly caressed their shoulders from time to time, smiling, waving to friends and winking suggestively at breast-feeding mothers.

I wish I'd known you were wearing that shirt, too

So, to recap:

Culture!

Hammocks!

Hiking!

Buttock massages!

Perfect weather!

Spiders!

A sink clogged with my former beard!

This place really does have it all.

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