Well, it seems I’m more than overdue for another blog entry although, considering we’ve now been in Guatemala for exactly a month and have yet to venture more than 10 kilometres from our de facto home, I think an entry every 2 weeks or so will probably suffice. So here we go.
Last time I discussed the food situation here on Lago de Atitlán, in practically excessive detail, as you probably noticed. Well, now that you know how we fuel ourselves it seems fitting to discuss just what it is we do with the energy gleaned from all those fried tortillas and raw vegetables.
Part 2: Activities
Every time we come to Guatemala we are sure to engage in a leisurely smattering of mid-range hikes – not too hard, or too time-consuming, or even rugged enough to require actual hiking shoes, but still strenuous and exposed enough to cause an immensely satisfying amount of sweat to drench the waistband of my underwear.
Of course, given that the altitude here is around 1,500 metres and that our apartment is perched halfway up the side of a hill, well just about anywhere we go or anything we do gets our hearts racing to a certain extent (and not just thanks to the shorter cut of shorts I’ve been leaning toward these days). Our standard saunter is from our place near San Marcos east about 6 kilometres to the village of Santa Cruz. It takes anywhere from an hour and a half to 2 hours depending on how much local gossip there is to catch up on and whether or not we stop at Hans’ place in Jaibalito for a full sit down 7up and cheese break, or only long enough to stock up on homemade sourdough and whole wheat loaves of bread dense enough to knock the dents out of the fender of a 1978 Chevy Nova (but that Laynni, and everyone else around here but me, to be honest, has developed an inexplicable obsession with). Beautiful views, and just enough hills to get the blood pumping and make us feel good about beers and bacon sandwiches at Iguana Perdida at 11 am, but not so long or arduous to feel like real work, or keep us from making it back to Pasaj-Cap in time for an early afternoon nap. Sure, this particular hike does have a slightly checkered history of robberies by industrious young field workers relieving frightened white people of their cash at machete point, but we have never had a problem personally and generally try to head out in a group whenever possible. Any time there has been an outbreak in the past some local blowback usually puts an end to it pretty quickly, at least for a while. But in the end, I suspect that the culprits just know that most gringos can’t actually tell them apart (and vice versa). Much more consistently troublesome are the numerous groups of loud and irrationally excitable dogs who do their yappy best to convince us we are mere seconds from being horribly mauled in retaliation for our highly unwise decision to venture into the general vicinity of their home, but it usually only takes one or two convincing pump fakes with a hefty-looking rock to convince them that their time would be better spent wandering off to urinate on some trees and chew on their balls for a while.
Our friend, Leigh, he of the rather unhealthy obsession with hiking (he has allegedly climbed Volcan San Pedro dozens of times, all without the aid of a mind-addling meth addiction), also introduced us to another nearby hike this time around. It is a shorter hike that winds its way up through the surprisingly extensive village of Tzununá before following the river up the side of the crater for an hour or so before culminating in a quaint little waterfall that partially hides a dank, bat-shit filled cave. Pretty cool, although in fairness, have you ever really seen any other kind of cave?
Well, that’s enough hiking for now, fittingly, since that is pretty much exactly what we say every time we finish one once a week like clockwork. Moving on to an exciting new development this time around, for me, anyway, is that I’ve managed to weasel and cajole myself onto a local soccer team. The good news – we get to both practice and play on a state of the art artificial turf field complete with bleachers, dugouts and one of those scorecards where someone has to actually stand up there and swap out numbered boards (not that anyone has deemed any of our games worthy of climbing the ladder just yet). Supposedly it was financed through the creative accounting efforts of a former mayor, to the benefit of all the local footballers, and presumably the detriment of his reputation outside San Juan and the failed effort to pave a fourth street in town. The bad news – San Juan is two towns away from where we are staying and the boats stop heading my way at 5 pm (about 15 minutes or so before we finish). Cue up an interminably slow and jarring 35 minute tuk tuk ride around the corner of the lake on a loose collection of crumbling pavement and mysteriously deep puddles the locals rather generously refer to as “roads”.
Three games in I have yet to suffer a soccer-related injury, yet after I was caught off-guard by a particularly nasty pothole last week my neck was so sore that I could barely turn my head for 3 days. Our team is mostly made up of expat gringos and we are called Internacional, for fairly obvious reasons considering we have natives of at least ten different countries by my unofficial count, and so far in my time on the team we are unbeaten in one scrimmage, one friendly and one league game. It’s a pretty good calibre of soccer, and a lot of fun already, even though my body still has yet to acclimatize to the altitude here (or being 41 of years of age). So I considered it a decent accomplishment that after I was asked to put in a full ninety minutes as a holding midfielder last time out I did not quite collapse at the touchline in a writhing, weeping heap in a puddle of my own vomit (but it was really, really close).
Back to something we have always done during our stays in Atitlán, heading down for a swim most days. Sure, we don’t go all that far (about 75 metres out, 75 metres back), we don’t go all that fast (leisurely breast stroke is our languid method of choice), we never venture far from shore (the lancha capitans are generally more concerned with the music coming through their ear buds or texting their friends about which corner they should loiter creepily near that night), and we definitely don’t go if there are any waves at all (obviously), but thanks to my horrible front crawl technique all I need to do is finish off with 20 or 30 metres of awkward flailing, gasping and swallowing of lake water to get my heart rate up nice and high, like a 50/50-chance-I-drown-if-I-was-out-of-arm’s-reach-of-the-dock high, so that I feel like I’ve got my exercise in and can feel good about laying on the dock panting in the sun for the next 15 minutes like a guy who just spent half an hour unsuccessfully chasing Scarlett Johansson through a meadow, or a guy on day five of his Cancun all-inclusive vacation waiting for yet another mild heart attack to pass in time for second breakfast.
I guess I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention yoga. Since, well, Laynni spends an hour at it every single morning, up on the roof enjoying the solitude and ridiculously beautiful setting. But the thing is, all this alleged yoga takes place long before I ever actually groan, roll over and finally dig my ear plugs out to greet another morning in the land of eternal spring. So I don’t feel quite the same connection to it that I do with, say, me playing soccer. Not sure why. But I do like the way it saves me having to crane my neck to look at the clock all the time. If I wake up and see she isn’t there, but I don’t hear any music yet, I instantly know I have somewhere between 5 minutes and an hour to keep sleeping. If I do hear music, even faintly through my ear plugs, I know she probably just got in and is puttering around momentarily, soon to abruptly yank the curtains aside looking annoyingly chipper and relaxed to inform me “it’s time to get up!”, usually accompanied by some extremely irritating sheet-tugging and finger-poking. Still beats waking up to an alarm for work, though.
So that’s about it for “physical activities” here, at least for us. I mean, there are all kinds of other options – kayaking (which we keep planning to get to), zip-lining (which is all the way on the other side of the lake and, well, we’ve done it before so, eeehhh) and paragliding (which we only very theoretically plan to try, but realistically have no intention of doing).
Next time I think I’ll discuss the local wildlife – both outside the boundaries of our apartment, and the great many which unfortunately make their way in.
Finally, on a sad note, our thoughts are back home with my Grandma Houle and her declining health, as well as my mom and the rest of our family that are doing their best to deal with a very difficult situation. We’ve been down this road a few times before already, though, and every time she has proven incredibly tough and resilient so we’ll see what happens, but we’re hoping for the best.