Sunday, March 18, 2007

Guat chu talkin' bout Willis

When traveling a considerable distance, especially by car, there is a tangible ebb and flow. After a few months, you realize it's foolish to struggle to maintain a schedule. Once you relax and travel on a whim, you find yourself exactly where you need to be. A cult hero of the Mexico traveling circuit refers to this principle with the anecdote, "Wherever you go, there you are." Reading this before the trip didn't make much sense, as the author knowingly refused to explain his mantra. While annoying at first, it now seems the only way to describe a journey routed in the unpredictable.

Once well-reacquainted with our friend the ocean, Rachel and I made a beeline for the Guatemalan border. After 5 weeks we both felt it was time for somewhere fresh. Somewhere cooler. Somewhere we might find the unexpected. We flew through Southern Oaxaca and Chiapas, then abruptly were faced with the most obscene border crossing on the planet. I'll save the painful details, but the simplest way to describe importing a vehicle into Guatemala is that there are 20 unofficials with home-printed badges for every actual official. You never really quite know who's legit, and $15 either means that your vehicle skates through uninspected, or that you don't get through till sundown. If the Guatemala border says one thing, it's that everything can and will be bought... failure to do so will result in a complete breakdown of Guatemalan society.

All corruption aside, we're now in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Lago de Atitlan. For those not familiar it's basically a massive lake built from and surrounded by 3 semi-active volcanoes. Apparently the hippies think it's the freakin' cosmic center of the universe because it puts Paia to shame. To top things off, the gringo hippies are catered to by eager, conservative Protestant Guatemalans, who offer horse rides, boat tours, aguardiente (quite literally "firewater"), and ridiculous amounts of Devil Weed. Kinda weird irony, don't you think?

Rounding out the whole scene out is the massive indigenous Mayan community around the lake. Within 20 minutes of arriving to San Pedro la Laguna (our home for a week), you will see a brilliantly dressed group of hardworking Mayans balancing sacks of coffee, firewood, and textiles on their heads to the market. Unfortunately, you will also see the apathetic old Mayan lady instantly don a downtrodden victim frown for each tourist that steps off the boat. As she begs for just one Quetzal (about 18 cents), she keeps a watchful eye on her granddaughter to whom she is teaching that art of the panhandle instead of having her attend school.

With all its brazen contradiction, Guatemala is the most interesting place I have been yet on the trip. The natural beauty of the highlands is only trumped by the rich culture of the people that call it home. Rachel and I begin Spanish classes tomorrow and can't wait to be able to interact with the people here more. Although the US dollar ain't what it used to be, just 10 of them will buy you a clean hotel room with this view of the lake from your deck. And ever since we realized that 2 people can live in this hotel, eating every delicious meal out, for under $50 a day, it will be very hard to leave Lago de Atitlan.


Blogger Jaime said...

Just when I am about to turn off my computer and go to bed I think, "well maybe they have a new blog page now?" Jackpot!!! You made my night. Sounds kinda scary but exciting..the scenery is amazing. Be safe, love to both of you.PS I have re entered the addicting world of myspace, you can check my page to see da keiki...peace out

3/19/07, 2:30 AM  

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