It has been just over a month now since we made it back to our home away from home on Lago de Atitlán in the Guatemalan highlands. Now, I’m not going to pretend it’s been an earth-shattering month full of bucket list adventures and wild shenanigans. Because that’s not really what this place is about for us. Well, except for the broad two-week bubble of time surrounding Laynni’s birthday – that, for some reason, involves a long protracted celebration and more shenanigans than is either advisable or, perhaps, safe for our group of a certain age. But that’s a March thing, and therefore has no place in “February”.
Last post I described in detail our long, successful, but occasionally dismal, trip down from Mexico to the lake. Then, all of a sudden, there we were, back in our usual apartment, sitting in our usual palapa, drinking beer with our usual Guatemala friends. Surreal. The following day there was some unpacking, a bit of organizing, some sorting of groceries, and then we sat down, looked around, and it was like we’d never left.
On just our second full day back the new soccer season began with my Internacional team. The name stems from both the wide range of nationalities of our players, and our complete inability to stick with one uniform over time. This year we traded in our bright orange Dutch national kit for a set of unfortunately baby-blue Manchester City unis. Which, incidentally, were a nearly exact match for those of our week one opponents. Not ideal, and we had to rely on their white socks as the main point of differentiation. As for the actual game – we won, and despite arriving in rather regrettable “lying around on the beach in Mexico” physical condition, and having had roughly 28 days less than the 30 days experience has taught me is necessary to fully acclimate to the 1,500 metre altitude down here, I played nearly the full 90 minutes and lived to tell the tale, if barely, and it turned out my lungs hadn’t actually burst, as I nervously suspected a couple times while desperately chasing one of our 20-year old opponents from end to end, finishing off each play with my very specific regime of gasping, choking and glaring. We’re now five games in, have experimented with five different formations, and are sitting at 3 wins, 2 losses. So far, so good.
One of the great draws of returning to the same place every year is that so much remains the same. We don’t need to learn where the best restaurants are, the best bars for watching sports, the best times to swim, the best places to hike, the exact number of minutes to allow for the hot water to arrive in the shower. But whenever we leave for 9 months obviously there are going to be a few changes as well. Each of which stuns us speechless far beyond any reasonable reaction to whatever minor variation might have occurred.
Probably most noticeable this year is all the new construction in our area (between San Marcos la Laguna and Tzununa). Every year we notice a few new buildings, or a new stone wall or, more accurately, some nice progress on the same stone wall those ten guys have been working on for going on two or three years now. But for whatever reason, this year things seem to have really ramped up. It feels like nearly every reasonable patch of hillside land with a view of the lake is now full of Guatemalan labourers clearing brush, breaking rocks (manually!), pouring cement, erecting re-bar, or just doing their usual carrying around burlap sacks full of something strangely mysterious all day. There is even something resembling a mansion being built just down the road from us, which is not only huge but already spread across two levels, with a third level reportedly part of the plans, and a large open parking area below, all of this disconcertingly held up by some very large, but very crooked and unsafe-looking stone pillars. Big drug dealer from up north, or so rumour has it. Welcome to the neighbourhood, cheap meth.
In Pasaj-Cap itself the biggest difference has been the noticeable increase in “Overlanders”, the broad term used to describe people travelling cross-country by vehicle of some sort – be it RV, campervan, motorbike, or one of those insane space-age SWAT wagons that appear bullet-proof, have 60-inch wheels, no windows, and heavy metal bars across the grill designed, presumably, for the rapid destruction of other vehicles, inconvenient gates or possibly obstinate cattle, depending on specific needs of the moment. Of course, the overall menace of this frightening contraption is usually tempered by a couple large stickers depicting the whimsical name of the website where they are apparently cheerfully recording their gleeful travels. I don’t want to say these vehicles are exclusively piloted by Germans, because there was a Dutch couple that one time, but…
An interesting trend that started a couple years ago but seems to have fully taken hold now, is that if you are a shoestring backpacker travelling with friends, and probably a dog or two, and, obviously, a guitar, you no longer do so in a beat-up old VW van painted quirky colours and covered in peace symbols. Nope, in 2017 any hippie worth the colourful wrap holding his unruly dreadlocks in place now drives a rusty old North American pedophile van – Ford, Chev or Dodge, Honda Odysseys need not apply – with very few windows, obviously, and some flashy rims that have seen better days but surely cost some mulleted 1990 high school senior every last penny he saved from his summer gas station job. I assume the gas mileage isn’t exactly ideal, but get a few of them together parked just so and they can build a chanting circle fortress in a matter of minutes.
Finally, on the first of our daily swims we were shocked to find the water much colder than I remembered. Then I did remember, swore under my breath a bit and swam away awkwardly, just like always.
It wasn’t exactly a wild month but there were a couple parties, and then a couple more “parties”. There was the Super Bowl which we watched at Blind Lemon among 95% gleeful Atlanta Falcons supporters, at least until we pulled the plug and left at the end of the third quarter since, you know, there was no coming back from that 25-point deficit. I assume all went according to plan.
Then there was a combo birthday party for Bill and Tim (who, due to a family emergency, ended up heading back to the U.S. the day before and missed his own party) in Tzununa, the highlights of which were a spectacular meal at Bamboo, a luminescent full moon emerging from behind the hills across the valley, and some woeful dancing to “Twist and Shout” and “Walk this Way”. Did I mention there were samosas?
And they may not qualify as “parties” per se, but daily happy hour at Pasaj-Cap can occasionally balloon from its 6-8 person normal to 15-20 widely varying residents and guests all jammed together underneath a single palapa noisily talking over each other. Still, I read some unsourced article on the internet that said one hour of social interaction and low-grade alcoholism per day actually leads to a longer, healthier life, and I really latched onto it because it perfectly defended everything I already hoped was true and didn’t challenge any of my preconceived notions. You know, “news”.
Finally, when our landlord, Pierre, who was heading back to his original home country of France for his first time extended period away from the various stresses of us and our fellow tenants in several years, he eventually gave in to all the various begging and wheedling (mostly by Laynni) and was convinced to host his own going-away pool party. Sounded like a good time, although that seems somewhat unlikely since I was still laid up with my mystery illness (actually, we’re pretty sure it was the flu) and was, therefore, unavailable to provide my characteristic background comments, vulgarity and occasional mediocre cannonball. So I can’t imagine it was much of a party.
Oh, sure, we’re still hiking. It’s what we do, along with putting long hours into detailed spreadsheets to organize our TV watching schedule. From Santa Clara to San Juan, from San Marcos to San Pedro, from Pasaj-Cap to Santa Cruz, from Santa Cruz to Pasaj-Cap (see what we did there?). Dusty, but scenic.
February featured two big incidents for me, health-wise.
- As I casually reached into the dark shelf where my meagre pile of Guatemala clothes resides I accidently grasped, then was immediately and painfully stung by, a large Guatemalan scorpion. Right on the finger. It hurt. Quite a lot, really. Then the next day it hurt a bit less, but got strangely numb. Then a couple days later I didn’t even notice it any more. But…
- Then I got sick. Really sick. Fever, aches, pains, nausea, chest cough, multiple boxes of Kleenex sick. Was there a connection between this rather extreme and irritating collapse of my increasingly dodgy immune system and the now-extremely-dead scorpion who decided to hide in my favourite pair of shorts? Not according to any of the leading health authorities currently plying their trade on the internet. But I’m the one who ended up spending over 140 straight hours without leaving our apartment so, really, am I not most qualified to decide? Isn’t this exactly how people turn into paranoid hypochondriacs spewing absurd conspiracy theories and implausible secret cures that have never been scientifically tested and, therefore, can never be factually refuted? Of course, but no need to answer, my mind is already made up.
San Marcos News
Meanwhile, although Valentine’s Day happily passed us by without incident, not everyone was so indifferent to the bevy of creepy sexual encounters suddenly considered vaguely acceptable under the questionable guise of impressing imaginary St. Valentine. San Marcos, as everyone knows, is a well-known “energy vortex”, and one of the very best places for “ayahuasca meditation training”, “group hug retreats” and “learning to live your life barefoot without contracting tetanus, at least not too often”, and is now proud to add “spanking circles” to its already impressive repertoire of holistic witchery. While I have no firm statistics on the participation, nor erotic success, of this ambitious Valentine’s event, one cannot dispute the compelling language of their “Super Sexy” marketing material (mainly consisting of brightly-coloured flyers posted around town).
Spank my Valentine!
Women’s Temple Dance
Men’s Shiva Circle
Shibari – Japanese Art Bondage
Ecstatic Dance with DJ MTTSN
Super Sexy Supper Menu
“Spanking is optional! And you can decide if you want to spank or be spanked, or tie up or be tied up. or neither. Erotic spanking is the act of spanking another person for the sexual arousal or gratification of either or both parties. Activities range from a spontaneous smack on bare buttocks during a sexual activity, to occasional sexual roleplay, such as ageplay, to domestic discipline and may involve the use of a hand or the use of a variety of spanking implements, such as a spanking paddle or cane…altered states are experienced in this process. Asaya Heart Journey will be leading the workshop in Temple Dance for the women while the men gather for a sacred Shiva circle. We will then come together again to DANCE.
The event will commence at 3 pm with an ego challenging/dissolving playshop introducing poly-amorous concepts and games such as relationships within relationships and compersion, (taking pleasure in another person’s pleasure) and the interchangeable and non gender based dynamics of yin-yang relationships.
We are offering a big discount for early booking.”