Weekly blogs have become a thing of the past while in Guatemala, as you’ve probably noticed by now. For the same reason I don’t bother writing much when we’re back in SK, Lake Atitlán has become our de facto second home, and our daily and weekly routines so commonplace (at least to us) that they rarely seem to warrant additional documentation. However, I still want to recap this year’s stay in basic terms, if for no other reason than to give myself some reference material down the road when I’m looking back and futilely trying to differentiate one Pasaj-Cap year from another. “Wait, was that the year I peed in the hot springs? Or the one when that retarded bird kept hanging out in our bathroom?” These are the types of important questions I often find myself asking, so it only stands to reason I need some record of our stays to help my future self get to the bottom of these crucial mysteries.
Volcanoes and other hikes that felt like work
I’ve already written about our strenuous climb up Volc n Atitlán, and our rather less than strenuous stroll to the Santiaguito Mirador. In addition to those highlights, I tackled Volcán San Pedro for the third time, this time with usual hiking companion, Leigh, and very unusual hiking companion, Leah. Unusual in that I don’t normally hike with her, not that she is… well, never mind. Went well, despite her gasping and moaning, and we had great views at the top, and the descent would have been a breeze had she not foolishly taken the advice of some guy who told her there was no need to bring hiking shoes to Guatemala, that trainers would be fine for all she’d be doing, but which turned out not to be so fine, after all, kind of slippery, really, leading to some scrambly moments and a bit of lost skin. On the bright side, at least some guy was pretty happy that he was wearing real hiking shoes, so he had no problems, and will probably adjust his advice in the future. If he remembers.
We “discovered” a new hike – meaning Leigh showed us, then sent the GPS coordinates, and still we barely managed to make our way down on our own without wandering off on any ill-advised detours. It starts out exactly the same as another hike we’ve been doing for years – past the cemetery in Santa Clara and through some large corn fields to the ridge overlooking the lake from the extreme western end. However, where we would normally start heading down the hill to San Juan right at the end of the ridge, instead we head up into the trees and spend a pleasant hour tramping through rolling hills and shaded forest, with plenty of great viewpoints along the way, before following a longer, but less steep, path down to San Juan. It takes a bit longer, around 3 hours in total, but has much more variety, and also offers an “out” about halfway through, where those whose knees aren’t up for the descent can veer off to the little village of Panyevar and head back via mini-bus and tuk-tuk. An excellent new option.
There were also a couple tough ridge hikes with Leigh up to the crater rim above Tzununa – nice trails, great views, ungodly sweat levels. And, not sure if they qualify as hikes or not, but I made my first half-dozen tentative forays into trail running with reasonable levels of success. Not successful in terms of performance or eye-opening times, but more in the way that I managed to make it back to Pasaj-Cap without suffering any inconvenient ankle sprains, knee injuries, dog attacks or middle-aged white guy heart attacks. These occasionally overwhelming exertions were generally followed by a very welcome swim in the lake (literally the only times I ever jump in that cold water without gasping and whimpering and crinkling my face up like a child being forced to eat mushy vegetables, or an adult for that matter, this adult, in particular), and combined with periodic stair-running sessions (to the bemusement of fellow Pasaj-Cappers, and absolute bewilderment of the Guatemalan workers). The purpose of all this fully optional athletic torture, you ask? Well, to get in shape for soccer, of course! Which neatly segues us into the next point…
The Very Short, Absolutely Over-Hyped Soccer Season of 2018
La Liga de San Juan, where I’ve been playing as an appropriately international member of Internacional FC for the last 5 or 6 years, runs 2 different seasons each year. This year, instead of wrapping up before xmas like usual, the fall season dragged on into the new year, only finishing up at the end of January, for reasons that remain almost willfully unclear. These same murky reasons are surely to blame for the spring season, which in the past has kicked off at the beginning of February, remaining on hold until late March. March 24, in particular, which was the sunny Saturday when we finally found ourselves prancing around in our brand new Inter Milan kits, then, shortly after, desperately panting and sweating under the intense weight of both the mid-day sun and the practically overwhelming challenge of chasing around nimble Guatemalans half our age for 90 straight minutes. A man short, no less, after Simon lasted less than 5 minutes before a clash of heads sent him to the clinic with a gash above his eye roughly the length and depth of a decent-sized clamshell, or maybe a Himalayan crevasse. Luckily our opponents were also playing with 10 and, in the end, we struggled and fought our way to an entertaining 3-3 draw, then celebrated with beer and popcorn at Simon’s Alegre Pub. Hopefully this will also serve as a handy record for him, as he surely remembers nothing of that day. Then, the following week was Semana Santa so, no games, then April 1st we leave for Mexico. Therefore, you have now read the recap of my entire 2018 Guatemalan season. It was quite a ride. Glad I spent 6 weeks trying to get in shape (at least when I wasn’t busy gorging myself on omelettes or filling my daily quota of beer drinking).
A couple friends from home, Leah and Tammy, arrived in mid-January to stay in Pierre’s newest apartment, a big place with a beautiful terrace and great views of both the volcano and a variety of overlanders going about their mundane chores of cooking, tying ropes to things and laying things out in the grass to dry. Tammy was just here for a week (a hectic, boozy week that felt like much longer, but somehow was still just a week), but Leah put in a full month. A full month of drinking, cards, yoga, Spanish classes, hiking. They also swam in the lake… once, and didn’t seem particularly enamoured with it. A fun time, and while we were sad to see her go, we are still doing our best to have the new apartment continue to be called “Leah’s Place”.
Laynni’s parents, Lyle and Nadine, spent all of February down here, their fourth visit overall. Which meant it was more or less old hat for them, other than maybe the daily happy hours, an addictive little habit of ours that led to far more trips to town to replenish their rum and wine stocks than during past visits.
Less rain than usual during the most recent rainy season (May – Nov) seems to be the most plausible explanation for the alarming number of fires around the lake this spring. It started with a few small ones on the slopes of Indian Nose / Rostro Maya (a popular hiking peak near San Juan) that we all assumed were started by farmers burning off crops and old growth. And I’m sure some were, but soon the fires were multiplying, then encroaching on villages and roads, at one point taking down a number of power poles, lines and all. Our entire section of the lake was without electricity for nearly 48 hours at one point, leading to a lot of melting freezers and wreaking havoc with our normally excessive phone/tablet/laptop usage. While those were eventually brought under control, others have continued to pop up practically daily at various places around the lake. One evening we watched from our happy hour palapa as a new blaze raged across the ridge above us, and a variety of fires have been playing tag up and down the heavily forested slopes of San Pedro for weeks now. One night they ominously formed a perfect “S” on the volcano, as though illustrating an ironic version the Zorro “Z”, or some creative artist just really slowly and destructively working toward spelling “SAN PEDRO”. We had a brief 20-minute stretch of light rain back in February, and the real rains aren’t expected to start for another month yet, so everyone is just hoping against the tide of reason that they can be brought under control before they cause any truly significant damage to farms and villages.
Less than 8 hours after writing this entry I woke up in the night, became confused by a strange and unfamiliar noise, only to discover actual water falling from the sky! A dry season miracle! Sure, it didn’t rain hard, and by 8 am the clouds were already starting to clear up, but it was a welcome surprise, nonetheless. First and foremost, even this scant rain served to finally tamp down all those persistent, resilient fires that just seem to keep popping back up.
As you have probably gathered from our previous visits, we at Pasaj-Cap do love ourselves a good party. With food, and drinks, and games, and jello shooters, and merriment, naturally. No limits, no holds barred, let loose, blow off some steam! As long as it all wraps up by 7 pm, since anyone up past 9 pm here is considered a reckless night owl.
There was the Men’s Spiritual Group (this is what happens when the women head to Pana on a shopping/eating/banking excursion and the men are left to their own devices, meaning, apparently, day drinking) which wildly exceeded initial plans (a couple hours will be plenty) to eventually meld seamlessly into 5:30 happy hour. That got messy.
Then there was the village-to-village pub crawl we did for Laynni’s birthday. Tienda beers at Rigo’s in Tzununa, drinks and shots and nachos at Sublime in San Pedro, tequila shots at Alegre (many of you already saw video evidence on FB of Laynni’s disappointing effort in this regard), more drinks, including Bill and Steve’s giant snifters of either rum or vodka, impossible to tell for sure, at some random place in San Juan, then more drinks, shots and, finally, a pizza at Fé in San Marcos.
There was a mellow lunch at Tul y Sol that somehow turned into drinking games (a bastardized version of Categories), somehow the afternoon disappeared and, before you know it, another happy hour was kicking off with a real bang.
There were two pool parties. At the first one we had to throw Lyle in, if for no other reason than his smugness at having snuck away during the group jump into the pool, a feat which was, as you might expect, rather difficult. At the second pool party, a St. Patrick’s Day themed extravaganza of green food colouring and varying shades of green clothing, we threw Natalie in, clothes and all. We found this considerably easier to accomplish.
Not sure if I’d call it a party, per se, but every Saturday a group of Pasaj-Cappers ranging from 6 to 17 people (?) would walk by road all the way around to San Pedro (passing through San Marcos, San Pablo and San Juan along the way) where we would then proceed to gorge ourselves on the insanely good value that is the El Barrio Champagne Brunch. I generally opt for a beer over champagne, but the fruit bowl, occasional soup, 4-egg omelette, fried potatoes and optional pancakes more than make up for any calories we may have inadvertently burnt along the way. Plus, it forces us to get our weekly grocery shopping done (fruit, veggies and eggs in the street market, bananas at the juice shop, various other essentials at Johanna’s tienda).
Every year seems to bring some strange and different animal encounters in our very close-to-nature apartment. In the past: discombobulated birds, giant moths, scorpion outbreaks, etc. This year we had a snake. It was the second time we found a snake hanging out in our apartment, but the first time we found one chilling on top of my e-reader up on the counter right next to the water jug (which is where Laynni was headed when it got her attention with its wee beady eyes). How it got up there is a rather disturbing mystery in itself. Either we have vastly underrated the ability of snakes to navigate vertical walls and overhanging countertops, or it learned to jump from one of the chairs. I find neither option comforting.
Then a week or so ago a rat started visiting us in the evenings, helping himself to some of my bread, one old banana, and then just shuffling things around and making a general nuisance of himself. Fast forward to Diego setting an industrial-strength trap (it looked like it may have originally been devised to take down rogue goats), then our visitor almost immediately falling for the oldest trick in the rodent book (seriously, could that old piece of tortilla have looked any less enticing?), and Diego employing strategic use of his rubber rodent-crushing boots.
Even though we are leaving earlier this year, the strange vagaries that are Easter dates meant we still got to be here for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Nothing too different, just our usual – over to San Pedro to catch the last hour or so of their big, loud and smoky procession (only the truly hard-core are on hand for the entire 5-hour ordeal that starts at around 7 am), then a well-deserved boozy lunch (we can’t be expected to wander in public for more than an hour before getting on the sauce, right?), then off to San Juan to enjoy a whole different side of things. Their procession doesn’t take place until Good Friday evening, which means that most of the town spends the entire afternoon designing their “alfombras” (artistic street carpets made of sawdust, sand, flowers, etc.). As the “creative” village, San Juan takes great pride in this impressive display of creativity and attention to detail, which makes for some fascinating viewing. With, of course, a generous break in the middle to get a bit of a beer top-up (you may remember my hourly rule of thumb from previous villages such as San Pedro). Maybe the most interesting thing I noticed this year was the bizarre medley of music being played along the path of the carpets – everything from church music to reggae to Christian rock to some “oonz, oonz” trance crap that started with some guy’s really menacing voice inviting us to “Dance with the Devil”, then, of course, a bit farther down the block a 4-man traditional band was being drowned out by Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. Holy Week, indeed.
Miscellaneous Tidbits From Our 8th Visit
It was windier than normal during our stay, and we swam less than usual.
Now, a short video tribute:
So that about does it. Tomorrow we start making our way up to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico (via one night in Xela). It will be my third – and Laynni’s second – time there, but the first time spending more than a couple days. A couple weeks to enjoy the cool weather, city bustle and much-missed Mexican food, before we head to Mexico City for a couple nights, then meet up with a crew from home in Las Vegas for Julie’s 40th Birthday Extravaganza. Where we expect to spend most of our time eating ice cream and dancing to the free Bellagio fountain show. Tentatively.