guatemalan adventures

I haven’t had a moment to slow down, and I’m sure my espresso isn’t helping with that. Speaking of, I’m going to go get my mug that says “Practice Random Acts of Kindness & Senseless Beauty” filled with the tasty treat.

OK. I’m back.

I spent the last two weeks in Guatemala and then recovering from Guatemala.

On my flight from Houston to Guatemala City two weeks ago, I met a Guatemalan guy who said someday I can write his book. He lives in D.C. with his wife and has three grown children, but he’s originally from Antigua. He told me he was a guerrilla during the war trying to aid the farmers who were being systematically slaughtered in the countryside. He said the government tried to assassinate him three times, so he got political asylum in the U.S. in the mid ’90s. It was a story that seemed far fetched, but after he gave me his card (he works for the D.C. Courts as a community supervision officer in S.E. D.C.) and the phone no. of his brother-in-law who is a judge in Panajachel (whom he told me to call about 17 times), I started to believe him. It was all adding up. And Guatemala is a bit of a crazy place.

Lawless is one word I would use. Families of 20 drive in old pick-up trucks along the highways, 10 or more packed into the open back. The green chicken buses give off black exhaust, which added to the dry dust and the trash that they burn in open fields, makes Guatemala very polluted. In front of all of the banks stand policemen with machine guns. Little girls in traditional Mayan clothes haggle with tourists to buy bracelets.

In Antigua, I told one girl “Maybe later,” when she asked me to buy a bracelet. She hunted me down later that evening and when I said, “No gracias,” she said, “Lady, you a liar. You said, ‘Maybe later.’ You a liar.”

P. and I stayed at the Convento Santa Maria in Antigua the first three nights. The first night, we watched a few old episodes of “Friends” with Spanish subtitles and fell asleep at 8:30 p.m., which became the trend. In the mornings, a really loud rooster and church bells woke us and we were wide awake by 6 a.m. We said we would hunt down that rooster and tie up those bells (empty threats).

On Sunday, we hiked Pacaya, an active volcano about an hour from Antigua. On that trek, we met Joe and Alison from N.Y.C. Joe went to my high school in Michigan and his brother played football with my brother. Joe also works as a medical editor for the same company I used to work for in Chicago. Anyway, at Pacaya, we stood about 10 feet from lava, the black rocks hot under our feet.

As we were walking out, we heard a girl scream. The American girl in a tanktop had stepped on a loose rock and had fallen and burned her back. Her friends were pouring water on her and she was shaking and crying. Yeah, in the U.S. we would never be able to go stand in the crater of a volcano.

Monday, we biked 26 miles downhill along curvy roads from Las Trampas to Lake Atitlan with our group leader Luisa, a French guy Stephane and an American girl Yuk. We stopped along the way for a lunch of fresh guacamole and vegetables in pita bread and juice boxes. It was a rush feeling the wind against my face.

When we arrived in the main city Panajachel, we climbed into a rickety speed boat packed with about 30 locals and slowly cut through the waves to Casa del Mundo, my definition of paradise. Case del Mundo is a series of cabins cut into the mountainside overlooking the lake. Each cabin had a hammock outside its doors. It’s amazingly groomed with trees filled with fuchsia and orage flowers and huge stone steps leading to the individual cabins. P. said, “This place is so romantic and it’s wasted without a guy.” “So much for being an independent woman if you can’t enjoy it by yourself!” I said defensively — but I secretly felt the same way.

After our 6:30 p.m. communal dinner, our group got into the hot tub on a ledge outside overlooking the lake and split a few bottles of wine. When it got too hot, we jumped in the lake in the dark and swam and stared at the brilliant stars. Stephane said that was it, he was coming back from Paris for New Years Eve.

Tuesday, we were in kayaks on the lake by 9 a.m. We stopped to swim and I tried to jump off of a 30-foot cliff into the water (like Stephane), but I chickened out. Then we hiked from San Marcos to Jaibalito and a dog followed us the whole way. We called him pup. That evening we reconnected with Joe and Alison who were also staying at Casa del Mundo and who also met pup. Pup slept outside the dining room door while we ate dinner, but later that evening he was gone. Wednesday, Joe was sick so Alison joined me and P. and we wandered around Pana and shopped and bought ice cream.

Thursday, P. and I left paradise and took a bus west to Xela and went to the hot springs, where we met an Irish couple who got married in September and decided to sell their things and travel for a year. So inspirational.

We stayed at a hotel called Kiktem-Ja (I kept saying “Kick ’em in the jaw!”) that cost us $10 each, but that was probably because management shut off electricity at 9:30 p.m. (I was already asleep, but poor P. was watching T.V. when the electricity was cut.)

Friday, we took a shuttle back to Antigua with two Belgium girls, an Australian girl and a hippie in his 60s from the U.S. with gray braids, rainbow bandanas, dirty white flowing pants, a walking stick and a dirty blanket. He was sleeping in the parks and hadn’t showered for months. He danced in the front seat next to the driver to Reggae music the Belgian girl brought. Then he tried to drink out of a half gallon of orange juice and spilled it all over him and the van — to be fair it’s because our driver was a maniac and squeeling his tires around the curves. So much so that the Australian girl yelled at him from the back of the van to not pass on blind curves because she paid for her safety and the hippie guy told her not to tell the Guatemalan how to drive and she yelled, “Stick it up your ass, you freak!”

Prathima and I looked at each other as if to say, “Is this for real?” and laughed about it later — well, after we were safely in Antigua. That evening, we again ran into Joe and Alison at a pizza place and joined them for dinner and Saturday we shopped for real jade (too expensive for me) and made our way to Guatemala City to fly out.

At the market in Antigua.

The last three days my stomach wasn’t cooperating, which took some umph out of me. But regardless of my stomach, I was very ready to come home on Sunday evening and so happy to smell clean air, take a hot shower and sleep in my comfortable bed.

This week my friend W. was in town from Chicago on Monday, I went to a margarita party at K.’s on Wednesday, and last night J. (a crush I met on the slopes in Vail in Feb.) was in town from Denver and we went to a dinner party. Life has been nonstop with no time to think straight or reflect or breathe. So that’s what I’m trying to do now. Relax. Get rid of the restless feeling. Connect with some friends (I feel so out of touch).

But I’m still hopped up on my espresso.

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