Well, as you probably know by now, we are back at our “happy place” – Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala. Someplace we also refer to as our “lazy place”, the “place where Laynni and I get caught up on our yoga and sleep, respectively”, and the “place where Laynni does all the cooking and I do all the dishes, earning me pity from the locals”. The important thing, though, is that it still only costs $1.30 to take the boat over to San Pedro to watch soccer games, and the beer still only tastes a little bit like dish soap.
Of course, with this being our fifth visit to the lake in total, and fourth where we have spent a good chunk of time quietly ensconced in the comfortable apartments of Pasaj-Cap, it seems to me it is getting harder and harder to come up with any meaningful blog fodder. Sure, I could tell you about the hike we did on Sunday but, well, this was our eleventh time doing that same hike so I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before.
I could talk about the tremendous views of the volcanoes from our couch, bed, kitchen and shower, but I know we’ve gone on at length about them numerous times previously (not that I can stop myself from continuing to take more of the same photos over and over). I could try to justify how we spend our time by telling you how surprisingly fast the morning flies by, what with breakfast, swimming and showering all crammed in, but I know you’ve heard that one before. So where does that leave us? Details, my friends, details. As they say, the devil’s in the details, so…well, I’m not sure that really applies here. Plus, “they” also say things like “it is what it is” and “twitterific”, so I’m not sure they’re worth listening to. But when we talk to people at home about spending so much time in Guatemala people always seem more interested in the mundane details than I would have expected. Therefore, I’m going to spend the next half dozen or so blog entries providing some exhaustive information about Life on the Lake: Similarities, Differences and Creepy Shit that we just try to Ignore.
Part 1: Food This time around we opted for the posh door-to-door mini-van service, feeling quite comfortable that we’ve already previously experienced more than our share of long-drawn-out-with-an-unreasonably-long-stop-in-Antigua public shuttle rides and, of course, the equally edifying stop/go/change/stop/hang on for dear life chicken bus rides. The main advantage to this being that we were able to stop at the Dispensa Familiar before leaving Guatemala City (the Latin American version of Walmart) to stock up on as many groceries as possible thrilled with the idea that we would not have to transport it in any of the following manners that normally form an important part of our shopping experience:
1. In a scratchy, brightly-coloured nylon bag with handles slightly too long to carry down low and slightly too short to carry over your shoulder, although the attempt does leave a neat furrow right next to your shoulder blade. Especially on the fifteen minute walk back uphill from San Marcos at the height of the mid-day sun (because we’re always way too busy to get into town before that).
2. Narrowly squeezed into the tiny back seat of a bright red tuk tuk along with two sets of legs and the corresponding bodies that go with them, bouncing wildly over the rough roads under the questionable command of a 15-year old Guatemalan kid struggling to peer through a windshield almost completely obstructed by a large decal of the Batman symbol.
3. With overflowing bags uncomfortably propped against our legs in the angled bottom of a tiny, yet extremely crowded, boat as it putters slowly across the lake, bouncing and splashing over the rough waters as occasional waves crash up the sides leaving us drenched and sullen.
Not that I’m complaining. I love to shop. Especially for vegetables. And specialty oils. Things like that.
Anyway, the point is that this was an excellent opportunity to really stock up on heavier items that particularly suck to transport via any of the aforementioned methods – peanut butter (4 jars), salsa (4 jars), a weird variety of oils, beer (60 cans. What? It was a good deal. Seriously, $8/dozen, a guy can’t afford not to become a degenerate alcoholic). Plus, some milk in a plastic jug, a rare treat since once the big city is left behind most of my milk comes from little 1 litre plastic bags that need to be cut with scissors, carefully transferred to some sort of Tupperware container (which I always forget about and always need to track down a replacement for when we show up again) and typically only stays edible for anywhere from 48 to 96 hours, depending on how clear my sinuses are when I get up in the morning and sniff it suspiciously.
It is possible to get decent whole wheat bread, real cheddar cheese and good, salted butter, but not all the time, so we always stock up when we can, despite the fact they are all incredibly overpriced specialty expat items. One pound of New Zealand butter costs the same as 13 pounds of potatoes, or 52 large carrots, or 208 fresh tortillas, still warm from the oven. Nonetheless, we still go through a lot of butter.
The tortillas, although small, are an amazing deal (about 40 cents a dozen), and the wife of one of the guys who works here at Pasaj-Cap makes them for him to personally deliver every few days, right on the stroke of lunch (i.e. whenever the tortillas arrive). Slather them with some refried beans, salsa, guacamole (for Laynni only, I don’t eat green things that aren’t at least somewhat crunchy) and whatever meat happens to be leftover from last night and, voila, we are soon just comfortably full enough to properly enjoy a nice afternoon nap.
As for meat, there are actually a surprising number of options around here, especially surprising considering that freezer space is harder to come by than paved roads, or dish detergent (which are pretty hard to come by, in case you were wondering). Some guy with the remarkably fortunate name of Smokin’ Joe provides a wide variety of excellent sausages and other meat products, once you know where and when to look, most grocery stores stock at least some of the basics (pork chops, chicken breasts) and the girls who clean our apartment come to the door once a week with a mysterious cooler full of frozen steaks, prawns and, naturally, bottles of wine. A guy used to come around with fish, too, but we haven’t seen him yet this year and I’m beginning to worry he’s become the latest victim of that dastardly Highliner guy in the jaunty yellow rain gear.
Our stove is kind of hit or miss, which means we tend to eat a lot more rice than potatoes, and Laynni insists on cutting up dozens of carrots with any and every meal. Just sayin’.
Fruit and vegetable shopping, while extremely cheap and varied, is almost equally time-consuming and tiresome, at least from one of our points of view.
Although it is almost worth the effort just for a front row seat to all the indubitably creative mental math that takes place throughout el Mercado. Of course, then everything we buy needs to be bleached, and washed, and treated, and meekly cajoled, and gently massaged, and, well, whatever else it is Laynni has to go through to make them suitable for human consumption, only for me to complain about having to eat them. Hey, it’s the way of the world.
I eat cereal and toast for breakfast, just like at home, and Laynni usually has eggs. Which, incidentally, are usually sold individually with nothing more than a small plastic bag to carry them in, and even that you need to ask nicely for, so we actually thought ahead and brought down the 40 year old camping egg container we poached from the cabin.
And, yes, there is popcorn here. So all is well.