February was all about being happy to be back, then sick for a while, then making up for lost time drinking, hiking and playing soccer. March was party month, with birthday celebrations coming fast and furious surrounding our first Atitlan Decathlon. Which brings us to April (and our first Atitlan hummingbird naming ceremony). For us it is a time for winding down, with most of our closest friends around here having headed north to the deceptive warmth and teasing spring weather that always devolves back into something awful, horrendous and snowy at least one more time. Daily Happy Hour was scaled back to three times a week, then two, then the remaining 6-8 regulars sluggishly agreed to just make plans when we actually felt like having a few, then some time in beautiful Antigua before heading home.
On the other hand, while we were sort of playing out the string, April is anything but a wind-down month for locals in these parts. Semana Santa (Holy Week, aka Easter) fell especially late this year, and is generally the biggest holiday on the Latin American calendar. The only thing comparable is every time Barcelona and Real Madrid face off in another “Clasico”, which incidentally also occurred in April, with one of the best games of the year wowing and delighting both me and the 80% Barca crowd at Alegre Pub. Then with less than a week in between to catch their collective breath the annual town fair of San Marcos, the “feria”, started in earnest just down the road from us. In a wonderfully convenient logistical coincidence for the town, with these two big celebrations taking place so close together there wasn’t even any need to dismantle all the varied trappings of revelry, meaning mainly street pizza vendors, roughly a dozen temporary shops (imho roughly eleven more than strictly necessary) selling dry, tasteless bagel-ish bread products, thousands and thousands all exactly the same, plus the crowning glory – three different sloppily erected Ferris wheels, each a different colour and very different size. They all had one common thread, however, that being a rickety treacherousness guaranteed to endanger the lives of children, adolescents, and stocky drunken adults in relatively equal measure. One of the other truly gratifying side effects of community-wide celebrations in a country that has never embraced the concept of public washrooms is the unique pleasure of seeing large numbers of men unsteadily pissing anywhere and everywhere, more or less all the time. Including the one tuk tuk driver who was swaying wildly from side to side while struggling not to piss on his own vehicle, yet still had the presence of mind to spot me coming and half-heartedly mumble an offer of “Taxi? Tuk tuk?” Not real tempting, unless he was actually hoping I’d drive. Then there was the wonderful old man who, based on his barely half-open eyes and overall rumpled appearance, was almost certainly at the tail-end of a multi-day bender, and who clearly saw me (well, maybe not “clearly” per se, but he definitely looked my way in a squinty, somewhat angry, manner that I am all too familiar with), yet still chose to clumsily drag his pants down to his ankles and proceed to take a nasty dump right there on the road in front of me. Thankfully I was well past before he finished because I had no intention of sharing the one old Kleenex I had wallowing down at the bottom of my pocket. I apologize for the lack of photographic accompaniment, it would have been epic.
For a comprehensive look: A Guide to Lake Atitlan
At least the rest of Easter was much less offensive, although fascinating all the same – multitudes of strangers filling up the boats, people tubing and jet-skiing on the lake where you usually only find a handful of fisherman in tiny dugout canoes, tri-hourly fireworks, a prodigious number of loud, sermon-y church services and, of course, the Gran Semana Santa Alfombra y Procesion Extravagancia! Also known as each village spending countless hours meticulously designing beautiful decorative “carpets” made of fruit, vegetables, grass and coloured sawdust, then participating in vast religious processions which pass directly over all their own hard work, destroying in mere hours what it took, well, a few more hours to create. Colourful, festive, loud, smoky and solemn all at the same time, much like an especially competitive poker game. The main debate is always what is more entertaining, watching them make the alfombras, or watching them destroy them. It probably depends if you were a “pet caterpillar” kid, or a “burning ants with a magnifying glass” kid.
So those were, obviously, the main highlights of the month, although there were a few other noteworthy occurrences:
Volcán Fuego erupted in a more serious fashion one day, as opposed to the regular little puffs of smoke that happened almost daily up to that point. We were too far away (over 100 km) to feel the full brunt of its gassy issues but eventually the unusually thick layer of dust throughout our apartment became particularly noticeable and we pieced it together. Ah, that grainy coating on my e-reader is actually volcanic dust! Way cooler than the normal covering of tiny dead insects and human skin.
A group of Pasajcappers ventured over to San Juan for one of my soccer games to the delight of my teammates. Who are all those white people? Are they cheering for us? Fans! We have fans? Real live fans. We were inspired to a rampant 8-3 victory, despite the fact our entire fan base lost interest by half-time and headed over to San Pedro to social drink and binge eat at Smokin’ Joe’s Sunday BBQ. Well, except for the one flirty woman who came by our bench after the game and who everyone seemed to think was there with someone else. Is it possible we have both fans and groupies? I kind of doubt it.
As our Pasaj-Cap group began to disperse to their various northern homes we were forced back into meet and greet mode with the steady influx of newcomers. Nice people, but new, which requires a different sort of conversation. Back to “Where are you from?”, “How long are you staying?” and “How crude, exactly, do you prefer your jokes once you are halfway through a bottle of rum?”. Not terrible, but I still find I prefer conversing with those we already know, allowing us to tackle more important questions such as “Why haven’t you accepted my QuizUp Spanish challenge? Scared?”, “I still can’t believe no on voted for ‘Hummy the Hummingbird’” and “What’s wrong with your face? Oh, you shaved. Hm.”
Speaking of the hummingbirds, they hatched! Seemingly healthy and both accounted for, quite easily, since they never actually leave the nest yet. Until, you know, they actually leave the nest and never come back. Apparently that’s the deal – they liberate themselves from their tiny eggshell prisons, then they spend the first week all skin and bumps and gross baby rat vibe while mom spends all her time collecting a constant stream of insects and sugar to bring back for them, then they develop a few spiky beginnings of feathers and their beaks begin to extend almost comically quickly like avian Pinocchio’s or a horny teenage boy watching Orange is the New Black, but really still just look like baby rats with minor deformities, then all of a sudden they barely fit in the nest and they’re poking their heads out the top and their heads are covered in real feathers, tiny but recognizable, and then they have these tiny wings that they start awkwardly flapping with no idea why, it just sort of feels right, once again sort of like a horny teenage boy, and a few days later, theoretically, they fly out of the nest, never to return, somehow ready to fend for themselves. Quite unlike most horny teenage boys. And then it happened, on our very last day, suddenly Bijou disappeared leaving Cortez looking sad and lonely, and a little baffled, but excited about all the extra room probably, then we went back after lunch and it was full-on empty nest syndrome.
Of course, we still kept doing a fair bit of hiking, as well. Sometimes to Santa Cruz, sometimes back from Santa Cruz, one time we actually got up super-early (by my terms, not Laynni, Bill or Jan’s who all strangely and incorrectly consider 5:30 am to 7:30 am to be an important part of their normal day) and did this one at sunrise, which was very different and scenic, although getting drunk the night before the one time this year I needed to get up before 7:30 probably wasn’t the best idea. We also had this big old dog join us for the journey. His name was Balto, and he hails from Iguana Perdida hostel, although we didn’t know that at the time. We also didn’t know that he was about 15-years old, occasionally wanders off and takes days to return, and that we would eventually have to enlist our friend Marianne to take care of him at her house in Tzununá until his owner could come and retrieve him by boat. What we did know, however, was that his utter disdain (or absent-minded dementia) toward the yappy, infuriated little Guatemalan mongrels who continually raced out to issue dire, shrill warnings to big Balto, was funny as hell. Like a senile Grandpa scoffing at a police officer warning him it is illegal to smoke in a courthouse. On other days we walked around the end of the lake to San Pedro for the El Barrio brunch (free goodbye limoncellos! Maybe a zambuca for the road! See you next year!), or rode in the back of a truck up to Santa Clara for another go at the beautiful ridge hike that ends down in San Juan for lunch and disappointingly lukewarm beers at Fé (we don’t learn particularly quickly), one strenuous up and over from Tzununá with Maya Moon Katie where we oddly chose to ignore the only clear advice provided by our regular hiking guru, Leigh, to “always go left” by taking a couple lefts, then for some reason suddenly agreeing that right looked like the better choice at the next intersection, leading to a twenty minutes lost on the side of the ridge, then there was another hike to the “picnic area”, one of the best viewpoints on the entire lake, that is, at least, on a day when the fog isn’t so thick that you have to undo your fly entirely by feel, then Leigh was back from Nepal and I joined him and Clyde the Female Dog on another up and over, this time the other way from Tzununá to Jaibalito where we did a little exploring as well that led us to a precarious and exhausting climb up through a coffee plantation and a short daring stint passing through a fairly extensive clearing fire only tenuously controlled by a single woman with a stick, where Clyde and I both got a bit jittery with concern for our body hair.
So, other than those riveting highlights, our last few weeks were mostly spent just biding our time, soaking up the solitude and more regular morning swims, and getting back to daily writing (in addition to my already daily fly killing sprees and inadvertent naps). I got a haircut at a new place in San Pedro which turned out fine, I guess, although the guy was so incredibly slow that I sat in that chair for, best guess, somewhere between seven and nine days. We also had to become more strategic about what we ate (needing to empty out that freezer, ideally sucking on the very last ice cube as we walked out the door), and what we bought (which, one day, was simply a pound and a half of butter and a large box of Kleenex).
In a convenient convergence of plans, a few of our Pasaj-Cap friends (Tyler, Susan, Harry and Lucinda) happened to be leaving the same day as us. No! You say. Yes. I say. But it gets better yet. We were all going to Antigua. Eerie, I know. So we shared a shuttle, got yet another chance to take in the pre-eminent tire shops and bathroom tile factories of breathtaking Chimaltenango and still arrived in Guatemala’s nicest colonial city in plenty of time to scarf down a long-overdue Quarter-Pounder Combo for lunch. Four months without fast food – it was well past time to ingest some hearty American grease and make sure my internal organs weren’t getting too comfortable with their recent diet of fruit, vegetables and general moderation. Hoping to knock them back down a peg, I think that a two-day diet including Mickey D’s, ice cream, pizza, chorizo tacos and Dunkin’ Donuts probably did the trick. Seeing the rest of our crew off on a/ a very early flight back home and b/ a very long, very strenuous hike to the summit of Volcán Acatanengo (3rd highest in Guatemala at nearly 4,000 metres), respectively, we were inspired to push ourselves as well, which is how we ended up spending nigh on half an hour walking up some moderately inclined steps to Antigua’s Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). Exhausting. But guess what, there actually is a cross at the top.
So, in short, in Antigua we ate, we strolled, unenthusiastically revisited Pokémon Go, and did I mention I had a doughnut? Well, I did.
We are back home tomorrow night, looking forward to seeing everyone, watching TV and ordering delivery pizza, not necessarily in that order.
Finally, on a sad note, our friend and the guardian of the property, Diego, had his dog Bigo pass away in late April. Actually, his full name was Bigote, meaning moustache in Spanish, due to his funky little Hitler ‘stache. An interesting side-note: apparently in French that is also a slang word that means “someone who goes to church in order to seduce a priest”. Of course the French would have a specific word for this. Anyway, he finally succumbed after a month-long battle with one of the following ailments (depending on who you ask) a/ old age b/ organ failure c/ worms d/ snake bite e/ eating a lizard. Whatever the cause, he will be missed, maybe not so much how every day when I walked past he would roll on his back and spread himself as wide as possible, assuming I would like nothing better than to scratch his dirty, fuzzy belly while his littler pecker stared me in the face, but his overall demeanor and such.
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